The Delayed Monthly Update for April 2016

I was away this weekend and didn’t have much time for blogging, and most of what I did have was spent finishing 1999 Week, so that’s why this post is later than normal (and also why I have plenty of your posts & comments still to catch up on!)

(Also-also, if you were wondering where the “top films of 1999” post I promised had got to, I wrote about three-quarters of it before I decided it was rubbish, so I abandoned it. I’m sure I’ve published lots of rubbish on this blog over the years, but never deliberately.)

Anyway, on with what I watched in April…


#68 Of Human Bondage (1934)
#69 Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
#70 Cool World (1992)
#71 Warrior (2011)
#72 The Limey (1999)
#73 The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
#74 Election (1999)
#75 The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984), aka Wu Lang ba gua gun
#76 Ghosts of Mars (2001)
#77 Caesar Must Die (2012), aka Cesare deve morire
#78 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
#79 Lost River (2014)
#80 The Fighter (2010)
#81 Wuthering Heights (2011)
#82 A Royal Night Out (2015)
#83 Locke (2013)
#84 Maleficent (2014)
#85 Christine (1983)
#86 The Iron Giant (1999)
#87 Badlands (1973)
#88 Pixels (2015)

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  • This is the earliest I’ve ever reached #75 — the previous best was 1st June, last year.
  • Coincidentally, I reached #75 this year on the date that I reached #50 last year (8th April) — which at the time was a record.
  • “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen” continues at pace with Brad Bird’s popular animated B-movie homage The Iron Giant. I’ve already reviewed it here.
  • Four films from 1999 this month. We know what that led to.


For the fourth month in a row, I’ve crossed the 20 film boundary. Out of 112 months I’ve been doing this, it’s only the 7th time that’s happened. Expressed another way, it only happens 6.25% of the time; before 2016, it only happened 2.78% of the time (and before 2015, it only happened 1.04% of the time!)

The final number of films this month was actually 21, which is slightly behind the 2016 average — but only slightly, because that was 22.3. It’s now adjusted to a round 22. Conversely, being five films better than April’s previous best, it raises the April average from 8.25 to 9.67.

Predictions are typically futile, though it’s beginning to look like I’ll be away for most of December, which throws an interesting variable in the mix. (I say “interesting” in a relative sense.) Of course, “most” is not “all”, so it likely won’t count for 0 — but will it reach the 10-per-month minimum I’ve been holding steady on for nearly two years now? Well, that’s a discussion for December itself. In the meantime, even if December doesn’t reach 10, my final tally should be in excess of 160 — easily enough to score the second best year ever. If I hew closer to that 22 average, 2016 could wind up passing 250…



Foreign deconstructions of American values, genre revisionism, high camp, one of the greatest Bond films, and paternal revelations — it’s all go in this month’s eight favourites!



The 11th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Quite an easy choice this month. Films that are made ‘artily’ (for want of a better word) sit on a fine line, for me: too far one way and they tip off into pretentious dullardom, but get it right and they can be utterly fantastic. A couple of films erred on the right side of that line this month, thankfully, but only one really nailed it, and that was The Limey.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Even in a month that includes multiple critically-reviled films (Cool World, Ghosts of Mars, Lost River, Pixels), my pick for this category was really easy — and it’s none of those. This winner’s predecessor wasn’t exactly high art (far from it), but it had something to it — some innovation; some merit in its extremeness. This sequel doesn’t have that. For being almost entirely vacuous and looking cheap as chips, this month’s travesty of cinema is 300: Rise of an Empire.

Most Inexplicably Popular Film of the Month
I’m going to steal a bit from the draft of my forthcoming review to explain this one: “The weirdest thing is, this is the kind of movie I regularly give 4-stars to, while loads of other people give it 3 and I think they’re being a bit harsh but I can see where they’re coming from. Yet somehow Warrior transcends such criticism from people who usually have too much ‘taste’ — they acknowledge it’s terribly clichéd, but then give it a pass on that. Why? Why don’t you give the same leniency to the tonnes of other movies you cruelly rip to shreds for their clichés?” (For more on this theme, see table9mutant’s review.)

Most Critically-Reviled Film of the Month That I Actually Really Enjoyed
As I alluded to above, there are several contenders for this trophy (not Cool World, though — that is rubbish). Leaving aside a couple of sci-fi blockbusters that, while not as bad as many critics made out, are still not really more than “entertaining while they’re on”, the winner here is Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River. Heavily influenced by other filmmakers, certainly, and almost self-consciously elliptical with its pace and storytelling, I nonetheless thought there was a lot to like if you’re open to ‘that kind of film’ (think Lynch).

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Thanks to a retweet by Film4, views for Starman went through the roof (relative to my normal posts, anyway). It wasn’t enough to challenge Harry Potter 1&2 for the most-viewed post of the month overall, but then nothing ever is.


Once upon a time, I made a comment that can be summarised as, “Perhaps one day I could reach #100 in May — ha ha ha ha ha, like that could ever happen!”

Well…

The Limey (1999)

2016 #72
Steven Soderbergh | 89 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 18 / R

There’s an argument to be made that, from a cinematic perspective, mainstream US cinema these days is boring. Look at the kind of films American auteurs were producing in and around the studio system in the ’90s and early ’00s: Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, Memento, Requiem for a Dream; films that experimented with how they told their stories, the shots they used, how they were edited. Does anyone do that now? Or does anyone do it successfully?

Personally, I’ll be adding Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey to that list. At its most basic it’s a straightforward thriller, in which a British crook played by Terence Stamp is released from prison and travels to L.A. to find out the truth behind the death of his daughter (played in flashbacks by Melissa George, which is kinda weird because she has little to do and no dialogue), and probably take revenge on those responsible. By all accounts, the screenplay by Lem Dobbs was indeed that run-of-the-mill. In the hands of Soderbergh, however, it becomes an arthouse-ish experience, mainly thanks to the editing.

It’s the kind of cutting that’s hard to accurately describe on the page without overdoing it. The movie jumps back and forth in time — not from scene to scene, but from shot to shot. For instance, Stamp’s arrival at the home of his daughter’s friend, and the conversation that follows, is jumbled up with shots of him on the plane, driving in the city, the people his daughter was associating with, and even within the conversation itself, sometimes speech continues on the soundtrack while we watch the characters not talking, or doing something else. This isn’t a conceit Soderbergh uses for one scene, or wheels out now and then, but an overall approach. Some sequences are more thick with it than others, but it’s always right around the corner. It creates a unique sensation. Not disconcerting, exactly, but mysterious and querying. It has you constantly question what you’re watching — is it a memory? A plan? A fantasy? A delusion? It draws connections back and forth across the timeline of the story, bringing out thematic angles. At its most key, it helps explain what happens at the end (too bluntly for some reviewers, I should add). This collage-like style — which unlike, say, Memento’s back-to-front narrative has no obvious in-story point — will certainly not be to everyone’s taste, but it presents an interesting challenge to our usual ideas of how a film should be constructed.

This led to a somewhat infamous commentary track on the film’s DVD release. The A.V. Club even included it in their New Cult Canon series — not The Limey, that is, but The Limey’s commentary track. In it, Soderbergh and Dobbs discuss the filmmaking process, understandably focusing on how screenplays get transformed, and how screenwriters get screwed over. The Limey that ended up on screen is very different to Dobbs’ screenplay, having been aggressively filtered by Soderbergh. This isn’t hard to believe — the film on screen is a very film-y film; how would you go about conveying the crazy editing style on the page, even if you wanted to? By the sounds of things the whole track is basically a friendly argument, and makes me wish someone somewhere would get round to releasing this on Blu-ray so I could hear it (the film looks great in HD, so I don’t much fancy settling for a DVD, thanks).

Despite the visual trickery, The Limey still works pretty well as a straightforward thriller. You have to be prepared to accept the slippery editing, because there’s no avoiding it, but the throughline of Stamp tracking down bad men and how he deals with them is still here. Personally, I’ve never much rated Stamp as an actor, but somehow he fits here. He’s a fish out of water, a man out of place — way out of place — and possibly out of time, too, seeming like a ’60s or ’70s British gangster transported to turn-of-the-millennium L.A. It’s no discredit to the supporting cast that they mainly exist to bob around in his wake.

At a guess, I’d say some would criticise The Limey for being a basic revenge thriller with a veneer of artistry applied in the form of its editing, while others would be turned away from its basic revenge thrills thanks to that editorial veneer. I’m always up for mashing together arthouse and mainstream, though, and here Soderbergh does just that, and in a way I found consistently thought-provoking, too. It’s discoveries like this that are the reward for digging into less-heralded corners of interesting filmmakers’ back catalogues.

5 out of 5

This review is part of 1999 Week.

The Limey placed 7th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.