July’s Failures

As readers of my monthly review will likely have already gathered, I didn’t go to the cinema this month. Well, if I didn’t make it out for some of the big hitters earlier in the year, I wasn’t likely to be tempted by the poorly-reviewed Thor: Love and Thunder or kiddie sequel Minions: The Rise of Gru, was I? (I actually quite enjoyed the first Minions film, to my surprise, but I’m still not paying cinema prices for the sequel. Happy to wait for it to be free someplace.) Other big screen offerings this month included The Railway Children Return (never seen the original), Where the Crawdads Sing (couldn’t tell you anything about that), and DC’s League of Super-Pets (a box office flop, apparently).

Also in cinemas — then on streaming a week later — were a pair of Netflix original movies. You don’t need to have even read Jane Austen to realise that Persuasion is not particularly faithful, even just from watching its trailer; and if you are a fan of Austen, apparently it’s a travesty. I may end up watching it at some point out of morbid curiosity, but I’m in no rush. Then there was action-thriller The Gray Man, which seems to have received universally mid to poor reviews, but which I know I’ll end up giving my time to someday. You never know: plenty of people seemed to hate Michael Bay’s Netflix movie, 6 Underground, and I found it passingly fun, so there’s always hope.

Other premieres further down the streaming hierarchy (as in, I don’t think they were granted theatrical releases) included The Sea Beast, a fantasy animation with “How to Train Your Dragon at sea” vibes that looks like it might be fun; and Rogue Agent, which is apparently a true story about a conman pretending to be an MI5 agent, starring James Norton and Gemma Arterton. I presume that one can’t be very good, because it’s had zero press that I’ve seen, but it sounds up my street. (Mind you, it’s not out in the US until 12th August, where it’s apparently getting a limited theatrical release, so if there’s any buzz to be had I guess it’ll come when US critics get their hands on it.)

As for Amazon Prime, it seems the best they could offer in the film department was remake Most Dangerous Game. Billed as a “new movie”, it turns out it was originally a Quibi series in 2020 (they never even tried to launch Quibi in the UK, so anything on there has had zero cultural footprint in the UK; which, as I understand it, is roughly the same as the cultural footprint it left in the US). As it has somewhat starry names (Liam “that’s the one who isn’t Thor” Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz), I guess someone felt it was worthwhile to repackage it as a feature film for Amazon. But before they go that far, as a series it moved to The Roku Channel, who commissioned a second season — assuming that goes ahead, I guess we might be treated to a ‘sequel’ someday. Maybe Amazon are on to something after all.

As I mentioned last month, I’ve dropped many streaming services I was subscribed to. The subscriptions for a couple of them lasted into this month — Disney+, for example, on which I could’ve watched the likes of The Princess or Flee if I’d pulled my finger out in time. (Though Flee was added on the very day my sub ended. After hearing about how good it is on Letterboxd for what feels like years, for it to finally be available to me — only to immediately not be — felt bloody typical.) Over on MUBI, there was acclaimed Nick Cave doc This Much I Know To Be True, but I never got round to the last acclaimed Nick Cave doc (One More Time With Feeling), so I feel I should see that first (probably doesn’t really matter, but you never know). Other titles of note included Paul Verhoeven’s sexy nun flick Benedetta; drama Bergman Island (it’s surely some kind of arthouse Inception when an arthouse film about the work of a famous arthouse filmmaker is available on the arthouse film streamer); Cold War (which I think is still available someplace else anyhow); and — a true rarity — titles streaming on MUBI that I own on disc! Namely, Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin and Mountains May Depart (I have Arrow’s box set; indeed, I mentioned it in June 2019’s failures. Over three years ago… jeez…

Speaking of box sets, on to the latest stuff I’ve been buying on disc, ready to leave on my shelf for years (or decades) to come before I finally watch it (maybe). This month’s brand-new releases included Everything Everywhere All at Once (imported, because there’s no UK disc release even scheduled currently), Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (what can I say? I’ve got to complete the set), The Northman, and anime Belle — all in 4K, naturally. And that’s not the end of it, because catalogue titles in 4K included Okja (also imported, because Criterion aren’t bothering to release on 4K over here, even though they’re region free so they could literally just send us the discs they’ve printed for the US); Out of Sight (also imported); Arrow’s new edition of Tenebrae (I’ve not bothered with all of their Argento 4K upgrades, but this is a significant do-over from the Blu-ray in terms of extras and packaging, no matter what the film’s PQ is like); also from Arrow, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (waited for that one to be discounted); Red Sonja (which StudioCanal didn’t see fit to give their box-o’-tat treatment, probably wisely); but they did do one for the second Doctor Who movie, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., and of course I bought it; and, finally, Second Sight’s lavish edition of The Witch (which, in my head, I still call The V-vitch).

I think I’ve mentioned before that my strategy for importing from the US these days is wait until I’ve built up quite a few titles I’m interested in, then order them in bulk. That spreads the postage thinner and, it seems, on the site I regularly use, if you spend enough then you dodge them adding a VAT charge (gasp!) So, alongside the aforementioned US 4K titles, I picked up Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (the last Batman: The Animated Series-adjacent movie I hadn’t upgraded from DVD); Warner Archive releases of Drunken Master II and the 1951 Show Boat (never let it be said my taste is not varied); Flicker Alley’s releases of rare noir Repeat Performance and In the Shadow of Hollywood, a box set of Poverty Row titles; anime Vampire Hunter D (to go with its sequel, Bloodlust, which I bought the UK edition of years ago; no local release of the original has been forthcoming); and… Zebraman. Total punt, that, but I happened to see someone review it on Letterboxd and it sounded awesome. Yeah, that’s all it takes to get me to fork over the cash sometimes.

That should be more than enough… but no, my lack of self control knows no bounds. For new releases of catalogue titles, well, I can scarcely resist a Shaw Brothers film nowadays, so of course 88 Films got me with Martial Club, and also The Seventh Curse; while Eureka tempted me with a trio of old Universal horrors in their Boris Karloff-starring Universal Terror set. And then there were the sales! From Dogwoof, documentaries Max Richter’s Sleep (the concept of which fascinates me, so a doc on it seems a good punt) and David Byrne’s American Utopia (a doc in technicality only, because it’s a concert film; one I adored). And HMV had one of their regular 2-for-£15 offers on their Premium Collection range, and (as usual) I couldn’t resist. Four titles this time: more Jackie Chan in Mr. Nice Guy; more noir in The Set-Up; more classic horror in The Mystery of the Wax Museum; and an upgrade from my old two-disc DVD for A Streetcar Named Desire.

Now, that’s plenty, right? …right? Nah, we haven’t even got to the stuff I bought on a random whim yet! Brothers Till We Die, In the Cold of the Night, Knight and Day, Sorcerer… Sometimes I think I might have a problem…

The “Thank God That’s Over” Monthly Review of December 2020

Yes, the rumours are true: 2020 is finally over! Though if you think 2021 is going to be significantly better, you haven’t been watching the news. But hey, there’s 12 whole months of it to come — maybe it’ll improve, like, halfway through?

Anyway, we’ll leave worries of the future for later. Right now, it’s time to kick off my annual look back at the year just gone. Yeah, I’m going to spend the next week or so reliving 2020 — but don’t worry, it’ll be limited to my film viewing (like, y’know, it always is).

The headline news is my final total: 264 feature films I’d never seen before, which sneaks past 2018’s tally of 261 to be my biggest year ever! Plus, as I wrote about earlier this month, if you combine that with my Rewatchathon total (46) then I’ve passed 300 features once again. Throw in my shorts too (a whopping 65 this year) and I can claim a final total of 375 films. Whew!

More lists and stats and whatnot about that in the days to come. First: focusing in on the last twelfth of the year, aka December.


#255 Klaus (2019)
#256 Agatha and the Midnight Murders (2020)
#257 Lovers Rock (2020), aka Small Axe: Lovers Rock
#258 The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two (2020)
#259 Soul (2020)
#260 Tenet (2020)
#261 Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2017)
#262 Under the Skin (2013)
#263 Minions 3D (2015)
#264 Death to 2020 (2020)
Soul

Tenet

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  • I watched 10 new feature films in December.
  • On the downside, that makes it my smallest month of 2020. On the bright side, it means I’ve achieved my goal of watching at least ten new films every month (something I failed in 2019).
  • It’s below my December average, though (previously 11.2, now 11.1).
  • It means the monthly average for 2020 is finalised at exactly 22.0. That’s down from 23.1 at the end of last month, but is my highest yearly total ever (it has to be — I’ve watched more films than ever; that’s how it works).
  • But it does mean December remains the only month of the year never to have reached the 20-film mark. Maybe next year.
  • Talking of long-term goals, for a while now I’ve been tracking the dates on which I’ve never watched a film during the lifetime of this blog. You’d think after doing it for 14 days I’d’ve hit every date at least once, but that’s not the case: still missing were January 5th, May 23rd, and December 22nd. Despite knowing about those for a couple of years, I keep forgetting at the right time and so miss them; and this year I again forgot all about the December date until after the fact… but I’d happened to watch a film that evening anyway. Hurrah! Maybe I’ll finally hit the other two in 2021.
  • This month’s Blindspot film was arty sci-fi Under the Skin. That means I’ve completed the challenge, although I didn’t get through all my overflow films, sadly.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched The Christmas Chronicles 2 and Lovers Rock.



The 67th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A couple of very enjoyable films this month, not least the latest from Pixar and Christopher Nolan (yes, I’m in the “Tenet was good” camp), but, in a Christmassy spirit, I’m giving this to the gorgeously-animated Netflix original, Klaus.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
For some it was the film of the year (it topped Sight & Sound’s poll and placed in Empire’s top ten, among others), but I thought the second Small Axe film, Lovers Rock, was a dull slog.

Best Double Entendre of the Month
Patting myself on the back for this one, but I was particularly pleased with my Letterboxd description of Under the Skin as Scarlett Johansson’s Twin Peaks — because it’s abstruse and meditative sci-fi like David Lynch’s TV series, and also boobies.

Best Re-use of Music of the Month
There are many reasons to look down on Minions, but the Minionisation of various classic pop and rock tunes is surprisingly entertaining.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
For the fifth and final time this year, my most-read post was my monthly TV column. (The highest film-related post was my Christmas review roundup.)



I didn’t find as much time for film viewing in December as I would’ve liked; and so, as the month drew to an end, I decided to prioritise my goal of watching a minimum of ten new films a month over my Rewatchathon target. That means I’ve failed to reach 50 rewatches for a second year in a row — but last year I only made it to 29, so at least I got a lot closer this time…

#45 Die Hard (1988)
#46 Presto (2018)

I watched Die Hard on Christmas Eve Eve — because, y’know, it’s a Christmas movie. It’s still a great film, whatever time of year you choose to watch it.

As for Presto, it is, of course, a short film, so I probably shouldn’t count it as a whole number (I don’t on my main list). But, hey, I make the rules around here, and as my chances of making #50 by honest means didn’t look great, I wanted to count everything I could. Besides, the point of the Rewatchathon is to make me rewatch stuff, and I’ve been meaning to rewatch Presto for years.


If I’d found the time to watch more films this month, I would have loved to make space for David Fincher’s latest, Mank, on Netflix; and the new animation from Cartoon Saloon, Wolfwalkers, on Apple TV+. They’re top of my watchlist for January.

Other new releases for December included the surprisingly-controversial Wonder Woman 1984 (its UK digital release is in a couple of weeks, but I’ll probably just wait for the Blu-ray); and, all on Netflix, awards contender Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, George Clooney sci-fi The Midnight Sky, lambasted musical The Prom, and Robert Rodriguez’s surprise spinoff from The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, We Can Be Heroes. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series finished up on the BBC and iPlayer, with the fourth and fifth episodes/films, Alex Wheatle and Education. Meanwhile, the best Amazon could manage was A Christmas Gift for Bob, an unexpected sequel to that movie about a cat or whatever (I dunno, I’m not a cat person).

In terms of not-new streaming additions, those catching my eye on Netflix included Jessica Chastain actioner Ava, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie facing off in Mary Queen of Scots, Hugh Jackman political drama The Front Runner, and Robert Zemeckis’s Welcome to Marwen; plus Wild Rose, though that’s just jumped over from Amazon Prime. Netflix also added a bunch of stuff on December 31st, but I haven’t had time to go through that lot yet, so I’ll roll them into next month’s failures (or maybe I’ll even watch th— hahaha, no I won’t). Amazon added Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, while iPlayer has a speedy debut for Monsoon starring Henry Golding.

Finally, I had another ridiculous haul of new Blu-rays this month. Highlights include Arrow’s 4K releases of Cinema Paradiso, Crash (both now contenders for 2021’s Blindspot list), and Tremors, plus their release of Japanese zombie actioner Versus; Indicator’s new edition of Roadgames (which I loved when I watched the Australian Blu-ray back in 2016), plus neo-noir Devil in a Blue Dress; a pair of Samuel Fuller titles from Eureka, Hell and High Water and House of Bamboo; and All The Anime’s 4K release of Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You, plus their new edition of his 5 Centimeters Per Second. If that wasn’t enough, there were 13 (yes, 13) more titles, mostly from sales — including the BFI’s 18-film Werner Herzog box set. Now I just need to get better at actually watching this stuff…


A new year begins. But first, there’s a lot more looking back at 2020 to be done. Stay tuned.

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

2018 #155
Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud | 98 mins | download (HD+3D) | 1.85:1 | USA, France & Japan / English | U / PG

Despicable Me 2

In this sequel to the popular animated comedy (which I wasn’t that fond of, personally), supervillain turned adoptive dad Gru (Steve Carell) is dragged back into his old world when the Anti-Villain League recruit him in order to track down the villain who stole a dangerous serum. Meanwhile, Gru’s daughters think he needs a girlfriend, and the AVL agent assigned as his partner, Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), seems the perfect fit. Also, his yellow Minions are still around, getting up to all sorts of ker-azy antics.

That’s the concise version, anyhow. This is a film that rambles around a lot in the telling, presumably out of fear that it might ever become boring to hyperactive youngsters. Unfortunately, it almost had the opposite effect on me. The main plot just felt like a shape on which to hang the romantic and Minion subplots, but those subplots just felt like a constant distraction from the main plot. The end result is a film that’s narratively unsatisfying on all fronts.

So. Many. Minions.

Instead, entertainment value comes from individual scenes or moments. Personal preference will dictate just how entertaining those are, however. I didn’t feel there was much consistency, with the humour able to spin on a dime from being pretty amusing to falling flat. It doesn’t help that it feels way too long, overloaded with subplots that don’t go anywhere meaningful and the Minions’ sketch-like shenanigans. And there’s a lot of the Minions, clearly the breakout stars of the first movie (and hence why the series’ next film was entirely centred around them). While they amuse me on occasions, I mostly find them annoying, and am slightly baffled that anyone over the age of about six can find them significantly amusing.

But it looks pretty great in 3D, at least — turns out Gru’s long pointy nose was made for the format — and it’s quite funny and imaginative in places. Still, a good trim would’ve benefitted it enormously. Unless you do really enjoy the Minions, I guess.

3 out of 5

The UK network TV premiere of spin-off Minions is on ITV today at 6:15pm.