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 Doozy of a Monthly Update for May 2018

    There’s a lot to say about this rather special May, so let’s just crack on with it.


    #91 Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)
    #92 Phantasm (1979)
    #93 Laura (1944)
    #94 ManHunt (2017)
    #95 Anon (2018)
    #96 Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)
    #97 Trekkies (1997)
    #98 Trekkies 2 (2004)
    #99 FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
    #100 Stalker (1979)
    #101 Shrek the Third (2007)
    #102 The Hangover Part III (2013)
    #103 Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D (1991/2017)
    #104 Jigsaw (2017)
    #105 Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)
    #106 O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
    #107 Inferno 3D (1953)
    #108 Adventures of Zatoichi (1964), aka Zatôichi sekisho-yaburi
    #109 Coco 3D (2017)
    #110 The Pixar Story (2007)
    #111 Game Night (2018)
    #112 Lupin the Third: The Secret of Mamo (1978), aka Rupan Sansei: Rupan tai Kurōn
    #113 Live by Night (2016)
    #114 Christine (2016)
    #115 The Wild Bunch (1969)
    #115a The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage (1996)
    #116 Allied (2016)
    #117 Colossal (2016)
    #118 It (2017)
    #119 Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
    #120 Deadpool 2 (2018)
    #121 All the Money in the World (2017)
    #122 Finding Dory 3D (2016)
    #123 The Warriors (1979)
    #124 American Made (2017)
    Laura

    Game Night

    Lupin the Third: The Secret of Mamo

    Deadpool 2

    The Warriors

    .


    • S’funny: it happened three weeks ago, so this is old news to me now, but this is officially an “I reached #100!” update.
    • Speaking of it being “old news”… the previous record for the earliest I’d made it to #100 was 28th May in 2016. At the end of March I very much doubted I’d even be close to that this year. But, come the end of April, I would’ve been disappointed if I didn’t smash that record. And I did, reaching #100 on 10th May.
    • This is the 10th year I’ve made it to my eponymous goal, out of 12 attempts. All the viewing I did beyond #100 means 2018 is already my 6th best year.

    That’s enough about #100 — how about the usual monthly perspective?

    • Well, May 2018’s total was 34 films. That surpasses the record set just last month to become my New. Best. Month. Ever!
    • Obviously that means it’s the best May ever, but it’s also the first time May has featured 20+ films (the previous best was 16).
    • Never mind 20+ — what about 30+? This is only the third month ever to cross that milestone, and the first time there have been two back to back.
    • Oh, and it maintains my ten-per-month minimum for the 48th month — four solid years. My longest run before this was seven months.
    • Naturally, this kind of behaviour smashes averages. May’s increases from exactly 12 to exactly 14. The rolling average of the last 12 months also shoots up by nearly two whole films, from 16.8 to 18.6. And the average for 2018 so far goes up even more than that, from an already-high 22.5 to a whopping 24.8. If that average were to continue, it would be remarkable: only four months in the history of 100 Films — i.e. 2.9% of months — would meet or surpass that figure.
    • Despite watching more films than there were days in the month, I managed to miss seeing one on May 23rd, which is one of the seven remaining dates on which I’ve ‘never’ watched a film (as first mentioned in July 2017’s update). The ball is now in June’s court to get that figure down to a nice round half-dozen.

    Whew, enough numbers! Here’s some stuff about the actual films…

    • I rewatched The Terminator back in December because T2 3D was hitting Blu-ray that same month and I hadn’t seen either film for years. Well, five months later, I finally (re)watched said sequel.
    • Even worse, I rewatched Finding Nemo back in July 2017 to remind myself what happened in it before I watched Finding Dory. Ten months later, I’ve finally watched that sequel.
    • This month’s Blindspot film: Sam Peckinpah’s bloody, quick-cut Western The Wild Bunch. Controversial for both those reasons on its release back in the ’60s, by golly if it isn’t still striking for them today!
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Andrei Tarkovsky’s acclaimed sci-fi mystery Stalker. It’s slower than his Solaris and I didn’t like it as much, but it did make me want to watch that again. Maybe I’ll pick it up in the current Criterion UK sale…



    The 36th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    Well, this is tricky — so many films, so much choice. At the risk of sounding like I’m picking a runner-up, I really, really enjoyed Game Night and will give it a glowing review sometime near the UK home ent release, but I’ll probably give it four stars. Nonetheless, I guess it would’ve been the winner here if I hadn’t watched The Warriors last night, which I loved and will give the full five.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    Fortunately, this was a bit easier. While there were some underwhelming films this month, the only one I outright disliked was Phantasm. On the bright side, I watched it because the series’ Blu-ray box set was on offer and I was considering a purchase (I had the first film recorded off TV), so it saved me something like £36.

    Best Animated Film of the Month
    I watched seven animated films this month, which seems enough to warrant its own category. Two of them were Pixar films, both of which I enjoyed. Two more were American computer animations, which provoked a more mixed reaction. Another two were traditionally animated movies, both of which I enjoyed more than I expected to. But the victor is the last one: the barmy and kind of brilliant anime Lupin the Third: The Secret of Mamo.

    Bonkers Sex Scene of the Month
    Much to everyone’s relief, they chose to delete the infamous preteen orgy from It, which for all kinds of reasons is perhaps the all-time champion of this category. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard getting it on in the middle of a sandstorm seemed to provoke a lot of comment too, but that doesn’t quite beat the accidental weightlessness of having sex with a pilot midflight in American Made. Supposedly the scene was inspired by director Doug Liman bumping into star Tom Cruise while they were flying together. Well, what happens in the air stays in… the movie, apparently.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    Maybe if I’d seen Deadpool 2 or Solo sooner, and reviewed them similarly fast, this might be a different story, but, for the second time this year, the view count is topped by my monthly TV column. (In second place was underrated Netflix/Sky Cinema original Anon.)



    My Rewatchathon continues at pace:

    #17 Superman (Expanded Edition) (1978/2000)
    #18 Deadpool (2016)
    #19 Mission: Impossible III (2006)
    #20 Dick Tracy (1990)

    I know this is already a pretty long update, but I have thoughts on almost all of these…

    This was the first time I’ve watched Superman for… decades, probably. It’s definitely the first time I’ve seen the “expanded” cut, but as it’s only eight minutes longer and mostly small extensions I didn’t give it a new number. Two of its longer scenes are very good additions, though, so it’s a worthwhile cut of the film. The even-longer TV version (over three hours!), a full print of which was discovered in Warners’ vault and released on US Blu-ray last year, is reportedly too long, slowing the pace to a crawl with unnecessary asides. I’ve sometimes thought about importing it for completism’s sake, but I doubt I’ll bother.

    When I reviewed Deadpool two years ago, I gave it a full 5 stars. That was rounded up from a 4.5 because of how much fun I had. Even then, I predicted it might not hold up so well to rewatches. Well, I was right. Not that I now think it’s bad, but without the refreshing novelty you get on a first viewing, I thought it was more of a solid 4.

    M:i:III will be the subject of a “Guide To” post nearer the release of Fallout. I considered giving Dick Tracy the same treatment, but I’m not sure I can be bothered. I watched it when I was very young and I think I liked it — I remember having some kind of tie-in book that I enjoyed a lot. The film used to have a bad rep, but apparently has undergone some kind of reevaluation recently. I’m not sure it’s merited. Some things are great — the production design and cinematography are incredible, hyper-stylised in a way that almost looks a couple of decades ahead of its time — but others aren’t, like the disjointed story, or the Danny Elfman score that seems to have been recycled from Batman off-cuts.


    Life, uh, finds a way (again) on the big screen… and not much else, as UK release dates start getting bumped for the sodding World Cup.

    On the small screen, catching up with last year’s Oscar nominees: The Post and Three Billboards finally came out on UK DVD & Blu-ray last week, and Darkest Hour (not The Darkest Hour) is out on Monday, though we still have to wait until the 25th for The Shape of Water, three-and-a-half months after the US. What is this, the ’90s?