The Relatively Lacklustre Monthly Update for November 2015

It’s a busy old time on 100 Films as December starts: the advent calendar has begun, including its first review, with the second imminent, and this round-up of last month too. So let’s get cracking:

#173 Horns (2013)
#174 Force Majeure (2014), aka Turist
#175 The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
#176 Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
#177 The Lone Ranger (2013)
#178 Come Drink with Me (1966), aka Dà Zuì Xiá
#179 Inside Out (2015)
#179a Riley’s First Date? (2015)
#179b Lava (2014)
#180 Tank Girl (1995)
#180a The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Extended Edition (2014/2015)
#181 Ant-Man (2015)
#182 Paddington (2014)

  • No WDYMYHS film this month. A whole third of them are left as I head into December. It’s not impossible to catch that up, but this isn’t how it’s meant to work.
  • You may’ve noticed the number of posted reviews slow down this month. Two reasons: 1) I finally exhausted my rolling backlog of ready-to-post reviews and have been tardy extending it again; 2) most of what I have been writing are stockpiled for the advent calendar. Oops.

This month was never going to be a record-breaker. After the extreme lengths I went to in the last two, and with some time-filling TV series arriving, it felt almost liberating to know I didn’t have to try as hard in November. A little too liberating, maybe, because I nearly ballsed it up…

Normally this analysis section is a list of the month’s achievements; at least, it has been so far this year. However, there’s very little to report in that field this month: 10 all-new feature films watched is the lowest of 2015. In fact, it’s the lowest-totalling month since July 2014. It’s also the first month this year not to beat its equivalent from the year before (November 2014 reached 13). Nonetheless, it beats the November average of 7.43 (raising it slightly to 7.75 in the process), and manages to maintain my ten-per-month goal (just). That makes it the 18th straight month to have ten or more films — only one month to go and I’ll have achieved an entire calendar year of it.

Before we look to the future, what has November’s relative shortfall done for 2015’s monthly average? Well, after the double whammy of best-ever-months in September and October skyrocketed the average to 17.2, November being the year’s worst month pulls it back down to 16.5. Still a good number, and higher than it was for most of the year, which just shows how extraordinary that September/October double was.

So with just a single month to go, where might 2015’s total lie? No lower than #192, that’s for sure. “For sure” in this case meaning “because if it doesn’t I’ll have failed my ten-per-month goal at the final hurdle and be inconsolable with self-disappointment.” Can I go even further, though? The December average is 10.86, so eleven new films would nudge me that little further to… #193, obviously. If I return to my last-year-beating ways, I’d watch 16 films and make it to #198; though if I can go that little further again and match the 2015 average — 16.5, remember, which rounds up to 17 — then I’ll get to #199.

None of which are #200, the magic number I considered last month. Damn close, though. Maybe… with a little stretch… who knows?

It’s the last hurrah of my repostathon! Everything I’m likely to bother reposting from previous iterations of this blog is now on WordPress.

To round things off, then, a pair of year-end summaries each for Years 1 to 4, aka 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. (Although the rest of 2011 was part of the repostathon, the year-end summaries were some of the first things I posted on WordPress.)

The 6th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
It’s a little bit of a flat month for these first two categories. Well, that’s a mite unfair: I certainly enjoyed every film I watched this month, but nothing was a mind-blowing best-of-year-contender stand-out success. The nearest to such an achievement, however, was probably the sweet, loveable, joyous, ever-so-British Paddington.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
As I said above, I enjoyed every film I watched this month. Every last one. Well, situations like that are why this category is called “least favourite” rather than “worst”. Although it won’t be the lowest star rating awarded from this month’s viewing, the ‘victor’ here is Inside Out, because it underwhelmed me after all the hype.

Best Longwinded Storyteller
Oi, Peter Jackson — hands off! You can’t have this for The Hobbit! No, this goes to another verbose yarn-weaver: Michael Peña’s Luis from Ant-Man, whose stories may be just as filled with lengthy and pointless asides, but at least they’re highly amusing.

Best Action Climax on a Train
Most months, Ant-Man’s amusing tussle aboard a Thomas the Tank Engine playset would be a clear winner here. Did you ever think you’d see Thomas the Tank in a major Hollywood blockbuster? Thank you, Edgar Wright. But sadly it is not to be victorious, because by jiminy does the finale of The Lone Ranger justify the existence of the entire movie.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
I’ve mentioned before how participating in a blogathon can often sway this category (understandably), and so it was to be in November: swashing his buckle all the way to the top of the pile was Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad.

Busy busy busy, as I race towards my definitely-record-breaking final tally.

An inside out pair of shorts

Pixar’s latest opus, Inside Out, was naturally accompanied by a short film in cinemas. On Blu-ray (out today in the UK), it’s accompanied by two. These are they, reviewed in nice quick drabbles.

Riley’s First Date?
2015 #179a
Josh Cooley | 5 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | U / G

In this ‘sequel’ to Inside Out, Riley is going to hang out with a friend… who turns out to be a boy, which sends her mum and dad — and their anthropomorphised emotions — into paroxysms of worry. Is this the 12-year-old’s first date?

The straightforward story is built on clichés of male and female parental reactions to their kid growing up and encountering the opposite sex (mum tries to be cool, dad gets protective), but then it’s only got four minutes so needs that shorthand. Nonetheless, it manages roughly as many laughs as the feature, even if they are easy targets.

4 out of 5

2015 #179b
James Ford Murphy | 7 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | U / G

The short that accompanied Inside Out in cinemas is essentially a music video for a folksy ballad about a pair of volcanoes who are in ‘lava’ (read: love) with each other.

It’s quite beautifully animated, with realistic CGI (apart from, you know, singing volcanoes) that eschews stylisation without giving in to the urge to shallowly emphasise its photorealism, but other than that I didn’t much care for it. The story and song — inspired by an underwater volcano that will one day merge with Hawaii — are a little too twee. It’s not really sweet, nor sickly, just kind of uninspiringly quaint.

3 out of 5

Inside Out (2015)

2015 #179
Pete Docter | 95 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | U / PG

Pixar haven’t had the greatest start to the second decade of the 21st Century. After somehow managing to get lightning to strike thrice with Toy Story 3, they released two mediocre sequels (Cars 2 and Monsters University), and their only original film of the period, Brave, endured a mixed-to-poor reception also (I’ve still not got round to seeing it). This might go some way towards explaining why their release for this year has attracted such acclaim, despite it offering a pretty rote storyline dressed up in some fancy ‘original idea’ clothing (not that it is a truly original idea) and a modicum of genuine emotional resonance.

You see, this is the story of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), an 11-year-old kid who moves from her small home town to San Francisco and struggles to cope. That’s because the anthropomorphised emotions who live in her head and control her moods and memories are thrown for six, especially when de facto leader Joy (Amy Poehler) and the accidentally-ruinous Sadness (Phyllis Smith) get sucked out of the control room and in to the depths of Riley’s memory, from where they have to find their way back in time to sort everything out. Fancy idea: anthropomorphised emotions. Rote storyline: mismatched pair get lost, have to find way back in time to fix things. Genuine emotional resonance: once-happy 11-year-old kid rendered miserable and struggling to find her place.

It surprises me not a jot that a Pixar film has been over-praised by critics and initial viewers. That’s pretty much my view of the their last couple of efforts before the recent doldrums, too. Those were, specifically, WALL-E and Up, both of which feature incredible, innovative, boundary-pushing openings followed by rote, familiar, genre-bound second halves. They’re both good films, but the five-star bits are contained within the first 10 to 30 minutes, followed by three- or four-star entertainments for the rest of the running time. Inside Out isn’t quite the same, because the super-high-quality bits aren’t concentrated anywhere. Instead they’re sprinkled here and there, moments of cleverness (though not genius — as I said, the concepts aren’t exactly original) hung on an easy, well-worn formula.

You don’t have to dig very deep into the Blu-ray’s special features to get an idea of how this happened. The story went through many, many, many iterations over the years and years it was in development. No wonder they wound up beating it into such a familiar shape as the quest narrative. It may also explain why some events don’t quite seem explained. I could’ve missed something, of course, but I was wondering why they were demolishing stuff in Riley’s Imagination Land until a deleted scene (culled from a very different take on the story) explained it. Many of the characters are just built from archetypes, too, like a sports-minded dad who doesn’t actually listen to mom — never seen that anywhere before!

It certainly isn’t as clever or meaningful as some people have tried to make it out to be. For example, a whole internet discussion was sparked by the fact that Riley (an 11-year-old girl, remember) has emotions that are personified as a mix of male and female. When we get a glimpse inside other characters’ heads, their emotions are all of a single gender. ‘What is this saying?’, the internet wonders. Is it to do with the fact that all gender is fluid? That gender is fluid pre-puberty? As Riley is the only one with these mixed genders, are we meant to infer she’s transgender? Fertile ground for discussion. In fact, the answers are: no, no, and no. Director Pete Docter has said he just felt some emotions were more masculine (Anger in particular) and so that’s why they’re male in Riley’s head. Why the single genders in other characters? Shorthand. We only meet them briefly, after all.

Of course, now we’re touching on the issue of the relevance of authorial intent versus consumers’ reading of the final work, which isn’t a discussion I have much interest in engaging with right now. Suffice to say, whatever anyone’s readings of gender issues in Inside Out, none were intended by the filmmakers, and so you’re projecting something on to it rather than being able to unearth a coherent statement.

In other matters, there are some nice jokes and nods aimed squarely at adult viewers, the best being a passing reference to a ’70s noir. (Yes, really. Don’t worry, you’ll spot it.) Meanwhile, the animation and design is fine. I feel that’s the best I can say about it, other than that the loose, floating, ‘bubbly’ edges of the emotion characters are quite neat. Apparently the effect was originally meant only for Joy and was immensely difficult to animate, but just as it was to be scrapped John Lasseter commented on how great it was and asked for it to be added to all the characters. Well done Mr Lasseter, though apparently it was an absolute headache for the technical team.

I do wonder if it’s just because this is the first really good original Pixar film for quite a long time (six years and five films on from Up, to be precise) that it’s gone down so well. It is good — there are some neat ideas and a strong moral lesson (even if, as with everything else, it’s not a totally original one; though from the way it’s discussed in some circles (not least the film’s own special features), you’d think it was a philosophical revelation of Nobel-winning proportions). In some respects, these qualities makes it almost a return to Pixar’s early praise-magnet form, which is enough for some to go wild for it. For me, the style and shape of the story those elements are airlifted into is so familiar that there’s little room for surprise (one highly emotional moment excepted). Maybe clearer heads will eventually prevail and people will rein it in a little.

4 out of 5

Inside Out is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK tomorrow.

Inside-Out (1999)

2008 #66a
Tom & Charles Guard | 7 mins | DVD | 12

This charming little short stars Simon McBurney as a hapless market researcher on a busy London street, failing to get a single passerby to complete his survey — perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is making a market researcher sympathetic. Anyway, he’s quietly observed by a woman, played by Lena Headey (yup, Mrs. Leonidas and the new Sarah Connor [and now Cersei Lannister, of course]), who’s dressing the window of a clothing/department store on the street. She notices his failed attempts, which amuse her; he notices her laughing, and begins to muck around to entertain her.

It’s a simple premise, but one that’s executed with comedic flair and a surprising amount of emotion. The music and lack of dialogue evoke an old-ish French mime comedy, making a nice contrast with the modern-day London setting, but it’s the relationship that silently develops between the two characters that provides the heart around the humour. And the ending, as carefully constructed as any moment of humour in the short, is painfully heartbreaking.

However many times you might want to re-watch this — and I think you would want to — you’ll always wish for the same outcome, and always be let down. It’s a sweet kind of pain and longing that, in spite of that French style, is very British.

4 out of 5

This short is available on the Cinema16: British Short Films DVD, and online free at Total Short Films or YouTube.