April’s Failures

I guess I could begin this months’ failures with the same film as last time: The Batman. It was still in cinemas for most of the month, but I still didn’t work out my schedule to see it. It’s now on “home premiere”, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay £16 to watch it once when I’ve already preordered the 4K Blu-ray for £30-odd. So, that’s one that’ll be getting watched in June, then.

As for new releases at the cinema, there have been plenty worth a mention, but none that have actually dragged me out. Well, the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and The Bad Guys were never going to tempt me to spend cinema-level time and money, but I’m sure they’ll go on my watchlist once they hit a streamer I already pay for. Similar story with what looks like it’ll be the last of the Fantastic Beasts films (due to low box office), The Secrets of Dumbledore, although I’ll likely buy that one on disc to complete my collection. The nearest I’ve come to actually venturing out is Robert Eggers’ new one, The Northman, but obviously that didn’t happen either. There have also been strong notices for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which I was surprised to see screening at my local Odeon (I assumed it was an indie release that’d never make it near me). Other major releases that will go on the ‘some day’ watchlist included The Lost City (looks fun), Operation Mincemeat (should I watch The Man Who Never Was first?), and Downton Abbey: A New Era, I guess (I did watch the first movie, but haven’t seen the vast majority of the TV series, so how much do I care?)

Original movies premiering on Netflix included Judd Apatow’s COVID/making of Jurassic World 3 spoof The Bubble, which looked fun but didn’t review well so I’d forgotten about until now, and Richard Linklater’s autobiographical animation Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood. But it’s Amazon who have the one that’s most likely to actually find its way to the top of my viewing pile: All the Old Knives, a weirdly meaningless title that hides a grownup spy thriller starring Thandiwe Newton and Chris Pine, amongst others. On Disney+, kid-friendly musical Better Nate Than Ever caught my eye with some solid reviews, but the trailer looks like, well, a live-action Disney movie for kids. I think it might be a Bit Much for my taste.

MUBI again have the most noteworthy post-cinema streaming premiere, with Japanese Oscar winner Drive My Car. They had quite a bit to add to my watchlist this month, in fact, including The Souvenir: Part II (I’ve not seen Part I, but it’s coming back to MUBI tomorrow), Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, The Second Mother (a film that, frankly, I know nothing about, but is a staple of the middle of Letterboxd’s Top 250), The Turin Horse, and Showgirls. Yes, that Showgirls; though, based on its listed running time, I have concerns it might be cut. They’ve also got the documentary that delves into the film’s critical rehabilitation, You Don’t Nomi.

Comfortably in second for such things was Sky Cinema, whose headliners included Dune (which I’ve seen, of course, but still not reviewed) and Venom: Let There Be Carnage (which I already own on disc). More pertinently for me, then, was Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark. I’ve not seen all of The Sopranos — not even close — so do I leave the movie until the theoretical future date when I’ve finally watched the TV series, or, as it’s a prequel, do I just go ahead and watch it anyway? (I don’t have an answer. Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to either, dear reader.) Also, The Boss Baby 2. I enjoyed the first more than I expected, so maybe I’ll watch the second.

I don’t think there was anything so new on iPlayer or All 4— I guess they’re hampered in such things by still essentially being TV catchup services — but that does make them more reliable for older stuff worth watching, some of which I’ve never otherwise heard of, like When Eight Bells Toll, a 1970s spy-fi action-thriller with Anthony Hopkins, which obviously sounds up my street. Also the documentary The Truffle Hunters, although reportedly the BBC version is cut for time. Shame.

I don’t think Netflix or Amazon had any catalogue titles in the same league as any of those. I noted down a bunch of stuff for each, but it’s mostly watchlist filler I won’t get round to, or stuff I already own on disc and really should’ve watched. The one exception is Snake Eyes — not the Brian De Palma / Nic Cage thriller, but the G.I. Joe prequel starring possible-next-Bond Henry Golding. It’s the kind of weightless action movie I’ll bung on of a lazy evening someday. Speaking of which, Amazon also (re)added White House Down, which I’d like to rewatch sometime purely because it was quite fun. Whenever I see it pop up on streaming, I add it to my list for a rewatch; yet I’ve never felt any compulsion whatsoever to buy it on disc, despite my huge disc collection being full of total blind buys. Weird.

And talking of blind buys, that’s what makes up the majority of my disc acquisitions this month. Well, I think it always does. Just one thing I bought this month is something I’ve watched before: the BFI’s 4K edition of The Proposition, a film I haven’t seen since the cinema but liked very much back then. That said, I did pick up Network’s bundle marking 50 years of The Persuaders, which included all eight of the films in HD — except the films were edited together from TV episodes, all of which I’ve seen, so… Also in the TV/film grey area (in that it was definitely a TV programme, but it was a one-off feature-length production, so do we count it as a TV movie nowadays or something?) is the BBC’s 1950s production of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which finally made it to disc from the BFI, years after they first tried to release it (I can’t remember when that was, but it was only scheduled for DVD back then).

In the realm of things that are 100% definitely movies, the new Scream (that’d be the fifth Scream movie, sadly missing the opportunity to be called 5cream) is the only brand-new film entering my collection this month. Other new releases were catalogue titles, like Kino’s 4K release of In the Heat of the Night, which comes bundled with its two sequels on regular Blu-ray (did you know it had two sequels? I didn’t); or classic martial arts action from Eureka in the form of Yuen Woo-ping’s Dreadnaught and Sammo Hung’s Knockabout; or the grab-bag release Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror, featuring a trio of lesser-known entries from Universal’s cycle of horror movies in the ’40s and ’50s. And speaking of horror, that may be what Arrow is best known for releasing, but the only titles I bought from them this month were Rogue Cops and Racketeers, a small box set featuring a duo of poliziotteschi (crime/action films made in Italy in the ’70s), and 1990 neo-noir crime thriller King of New York, on sale in 4K.

Finally for this month, Indicator had one of their rare sales, which I used to pick up a mixed bag of titles that were on offer and also recent releases I hadn’t yet bought. In the latter camp were early Mexican horror The Phantom of the Monastery and P.D. James adaptation An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, while the former included The Gorgon (originally from the first volume of their Hammer box set series), neo-noir erotic thriller Jagged Edge, and their lavish edition of a Peter Cushing flick I’d never heard of, Corruption. Based on the fact the limited edition hasn’t sold out, even after being subjected to massive price cuts (I paid just £10.99), I guess a lot of other people hadn’t heard of it either. What inspired Indicator to give it the box set treatment, I don’t know.

March’s Failures

A quieter month in theory means more failures… but, who am I kidding, there are always tonnes of these. I’d probably have to watch ten times as many films to leave this column blank.

The most noteworthy oversight this month is undoubtedly The Batman. I’m a fan of the character anyway, and now they’ve made a version that sounds even more up my street — it’s regularly been compared to films like Se7en, my favourite movie ever. But life has conspired against me, and so I’ve not yet found a time to see it on the big screen. I still might, though I’ve already got the 4K Blu-ray on preorder anyway. That wasn’t the only new film at the cinema this month, although the likes of The Nan Movie and Morbius haven’t received the strongest notices. The new Michael Bay effort, Ambulance, sounds somewhat promising, though definitely something I’ll leave ’til streaming.

Even before that, the list of movies I’ve left to streaming that have now turned up on streaming is beginning to grow. It was a relatively strong month for Sky Cinema (which has ailed a bit over the last couple of years, between a dearth of new theatrical releases and distributors wanting to snaffle exclusivity for their own streamers), adding the likes of Fast & Furious 9, Reminiscence, Malignant, and Don’t Breathe 2; plus M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, Old, although I already own that on an (unwatched, natch) 4K disc. Sky are also the UK-exclusive home for Liam Neeson’s latest action trash, Blacklight, upending my previously-expressed notion that he had some kind of Amazon Prime exclusivity deal going on.

Talking of streaming premieres and Amazon Prime, the best they could offer this month was Deep Water, the Ben Affleck / Ana de Armas erotic thriller that’s had some kind of behind-the-scenes woes I haven’t bothered to follow. On the other hand, they’re also the streaming home for acclaimed Princess Diana biopic Spencer. You win some, you lose some. Netflix’s brand-new offerings were somewhat short on widely-discussed titles (no Oscar noms or headline-grabbing production issues here), but looked like a stronger slate overall. I’ve heard good things about Ryan Reynolds-starring sci-fi The Adam Project; post-apocalyptic Swedish thriller Black Crab seemed to shoot up their viewing chart; Nightride is billed as a “real-time crime thriller”, which sounds up my street; and I also spotted The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure, which looks like a Korean Pirates of the Caribbean. If it lives up to that vibe, which I got from its trailer, then it could be fun. Also not to be overlooked is Boiling Point, another real-time thriller — set in, er, a restaurant kitchen at Christmas — that I’ve heard is very good.

But for all that, the biggest streaming premiere of the month was surely the new Pixar on Disney+, Turning Red. If we ignore the empty-headed ‘controversy’ it generated (essentially, some middle-aged white men struggling with a story that wasn’t about a middle-aged white man), it’s meant to be very good — but I’m way behind on my Disney / Pixar viewing, so it just has to go on the list with Luca, Raya, Encanto, and probably a few others. In a very different mode, they were also the UK home for Fresh, a film which everyone has been talking about while trying to avoid the ‘surprise reveal’. If it’s not about cannibalism, the marketing has done a good job misdirecting my expectations. If it is about cannibalism, I’m not sure why everyone’s pretending it’s such a big secret. Maybe they’re just overly optimistic about what can be kept a surprise these days (the poster’s a dismembered hand packaged like a supermarket steak, c’mon!) Sticking with the big D, they also belatedly (it came out in the US back in January) debuted a belated (the last one was six years ago) continuation for the Ice Age franchise with The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild; plus, streaming debuts for Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley; Jessica Chastain’s Oscar winner, The Eyes of Tammy Faye; and the second pandemic-delayed Kenneth Branagh Poirot mystery, Death on the Nile — it slipped in there on the 30th, just in time to make this the second month in a row I’ve mentioned it (after its theatrical debut just last month). I’m inclined to jump straight to buying it on disc, to go with its predecessor (which I enjoyed), and that’s out in April — so it may end up mentioned in my failures three months on the trot. Or maybe I’ll actually watch it — stranger things have happened.

Once the home to deep cuts from the arthouse archive, MUBI increasingly have dibs on new arthouse (read: foreign) hits, at least in the UK. This month that boiled down to the streaming premiere of Cannes winner Titane, but they’ve got a big couple of months ahead, with Oscar nominees Drive My Car and The Worst Person in the World likely to feature in future editions of this column. All 4 do the same kind of thing later and freer, albeit with ads, recently including Bacurau, Rita, Sue and Bob Too (both their viewing windows now expired, unfortunately), Her Smell, and Ninjababy. There wasn’t so much noteworthy on the BBC iPlayer this month, although they’ve got back a couple of films I’ve been meaning to get round to for years, like If Beale Street Could Talk and Molly’s Game. I’m also going to mention La Belle Époque, which appeared on there just days after I posted my 5-star review, and is still available.

As always, we end with the place my disposable income goes to die: Blu-ray purchases… although the list doesn’t look so long this month. Indeed, day-one purchases were relatively thin on the ground: I picked up The Matrix Resurrections, because I loved it (and, er, didn’t pay for it first time round…), plus I imported Nightmare Alley on 4K (no UK release seems forthcoming, not even a retailer-exclusive Steelbook), and at the same time nabbed the new 4K release of The Sword and the Sorcerer — never seen it, no idea if I’ll like it, but I do sometimes enjoy a bit of ’80s-style Fantasy, so it’s the kind of thing that’s worth a punt to me. Rounding out my US order was a film I didn’t even know existed until Warner Archive put it out recently, the 1948 adaptation of The Three Musketeers, with a starry cast that includes Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, Angela Lansbury, and Vincent Price. Other new releases of older titles that I’ve never included Hong Kong take on Nikita, Black Cat, and Eureka’s latest classic martial arts title, Odd Couple. And then, of course, there were sales and offers: my 4K collection continues to bulge out with Halloween Kills and Venom: Let There Be Carnage from a chart 2-for-whatever; and a bunny-themed double (sort of) in a Disney 2-for-whatever, with Jojo Rabbit and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. A UK Criterion 2-for-whatever brought me Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and Topsy-Turvy (I used to love Gilbert and Sullivan’s work as a kid, but I haven’t listened to or seen any of it for ages). Finally-finally, a couple of limited editions I bought belatedly at near-as-damn-it full price before they disappeared forever: the HMV-exclusive edition of Almost Famous (it has both cuts in 4K, which the cheaper regular UK release does not) and Arrow’s Yokai Monsters set — the standard edition of which is already out, at a higher price point than the limited edition. What is the world coming to…

February’s Failures

Once upon a time, I never thought I’d be mentioning a Jackass film on this blog, but the release of revival movie Jackass Forever caused me to seek out the first two in the series, and I do intend to watch the rest eventually. Not going to the cinema for it, though. Or, indeed, anything else this month. Fare like Moonfall and Uncharted is very much in the “wait for streaming” camp for me — I’ll surely watch them both eventually, and it may even turn out I enjoy them, but they’ll wait. I did enjoy Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, so I was tempted by Death on the Nile, but, honestly, I’m still not sold on the whole “living with Covid” thing, so it’s going to take more than that to persuade me out to the cinema. Other things — like animations Belle and Flee — had more limited releases and I don’t even know if they came near me.

The return of the big screen doesn’t mean the streamers have let up on originals, although their quality continues to be variable. I’ve heard good things about Steven Soderbergh’s latest, Kimi, which went straight to Sky Cinema here in the UK, emulating it’s “direct to HBO Max” release Stateside. But their other originals — school shooting thriller The Desperate Hours and language-barrier romcom Book of Love — have received lesser notices. Netflix, on the other hand, could boast Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s first film in almost a decade, Bigbug, and yet I’ve seen precisely one tweet mentioning it. Their latest reincarnation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, on the other hand, did seem to generate chatter, but little of it positive. And the less said about Madea and Mrs Brown teaming up for A Madea Homecoming, the better.

In that middle ground of “cinema releases coming quickly to streaming”, MUBI continue to rule with the likes of Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman and Icelandic folk horror Lamb, although Disney+ come close with Kingsman prequel The King’s Man and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. On a slightly slower track, Sky Cinema also had a pretty strong showing of stuff this month, mainly in the horror realm. We’re talking Freaky, The Forever Purge (I’ve got a couple of others left before I get to that, personally), Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth, and Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (I quite enjoyed the first, so I’ll give it a chance). Also, not a horror but it looks horrific: Space Jam: A New Legacy. And quirky British true story comedy Dream Horse, which looks worth it just for the international cast’s attempts at the Welsh accent.

As usual, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, and All 4 produced plenty of stuff from deeper in the archive that I’m happy to fill out my watchlist with while clearly being in no rush to get round to. Normally I’d include Netflix in that list, but I’ve not jotted down much on my shortlist this month; though MUBI had an uncommonly good showing, the standout being Jiro Dreams of Sushi right at the end of the month. Others of particular interest included The Passion of the Christ (I feel I really should’ve seen that by now), the 1950s version of Around the World in 80 Days, Ripley adaptation The American Friend, and Memento, which I haven’t revisited in many a year. I own it on DVD, but, naturally, it’s in HD on iPlayer.

Finally, the inexorable growth of my Blu-ray collection continued unabated, with a mix of new releases and sale pickups. Although I watched Ghostbusters: Afterlife in February, I picked it up in the series’ Ultimate Collection box set, meaning I now have 4K copies of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II on my watchlist. And that’s not all from the rewatch back catalogue, because HMV’s rolling offer of half-price UHD discs also allowed me to nab La La Land, Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, the original Scream, and The Shawshank Redemption — a rare film that I love (or like a lot, at least) but never upgraded to Blu-ray, so jumping from DVD straight to 4K feels like some kind of victory.

There were new releases in 4K too, of course, most prominently Dune: Part One (how I wish it said that on the spine — it inevitably won’t match the sequel), which I imported from France so I also have it in 3D, and The King’s Man. Could’ve just watched that on Disney+, or at least given it a go there first, but as I own the first two it was inevitable I’d buy it, so I just got on with it. And, as we all know, discs are better than streaming anyway. I also took a punt on adult fantasy animation The Spine of Night in 4K, imported from the US alongside a new edition of Candyman III: Day of the Dead — it’s meant to be a rubbish film, but it completes my Candyman collection. Unfortunately, it’s also a somewhat rubbish disc, with noticeably weaker picture quality compared to a German release from a while back. Still, lots of special features. If I actually like it when I watch it, maybe I’ll treat myself to the German disc too. Based on everyone else’s opinion, that seems unlikely.

UK labels continue to rollout martial arts classics — I feel like something must have changed in the licensing of these, because we got hardly any a few years ago, while now there’s at least a couple every month from 8 Films or Eureka, and now Arrow getting in on the game too. Anyway, this month’s releases included The Flag of Iron and Legendary Weapons of China from 88 Films, and Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon from Eureka, who also released silent epic The Indian Tomb on their Masters of Cinema line. They’d previously released Fritz Lang’s 1950s remake on DVD, which went OOP just before their release of the silent one came out. I presume that’s just a funny coincidence. And last but very much not least on the new release pile, Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: A New Generation. Long-time readers will surely remember how much I loved his series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting this sequel. Now I’ve just got to make room for its near-three-hour running time.

I’ve ummed and ahhed for years about upgrading my Charlie Chaplin box set to the Blu-ray version, especially as there have been a couple now, and the extra features vary, and the picture quality isn’t always the best. But Amazon cut it to such a low price this month, I decided just to give in — so that’s 11 features, a mix of ones I’ve seen and ones I haven’t. They may not be the very best available, but they’re a lot better than my DVD copies (which I can hang onto for the missing extras, because I’ll never make much reselling them anyway), and a lot cheaper than buying the films individually — which I can always do if I particularly love any of them. Criterion have put most of them out in the US, and are about to start bringing them to the UK, so we’ll see as they go along. Talking of box sets I’d overlooked but was tempted into by sales (it might not sound like a common problem, but it is for me), Indicator tempted me to grab their four-film John Ford at Columbia set this month; and because that wasn’t expensive enough to qualify for free postage, I also delved into their 5-for-whatever offer, picking up Eyes of Laura Mars, Modern Romance, Night Tide, See No Evil, and Time Without Pity. Their releases are so well-done, and their picks often so obscure but intriguing, that it’s easy to just keep buying them. Now, I just need to make the effort to actually watch more of them, too.

Looking at that (not-so-)little lot, it’s easy to see why my bank account felt severely depleted by the end of the month. Maybe in March I’ll finally resist the lure of sales… but there’s always all those exciting new releases… Oh, I’m damned.

January’s Failures

Oo-ooh, wouldja look at this? After three years as just part of my monthly review, Failures has gone and got its own dedicated post! Well, it was getting ridiculously long to be just a part of something else. There’s just so much stuff to see every month, and so much of it I don’t see…

We begin, as ever, with the big screen, where there’s something of a sense of things being back to normal, at least in terms of what’s being released. I think the closest to what could conceivably be called a blockbuster this month was the new Scream, while the rest of the UK release schedule was filled with belated bows for things like Licorice Pizza, Belfast, and Nightmare Alley. Let’s be honest, they’re not things that would tempt me out to the cinema in the best of days (I’ll wait for an at-home option), never mind in Covid times.

I’m not alone in such thoughts, of course, and so the streamers continue to trot stuff out to capture our fleeting interest, though there weren’t any particularly big guns this month, unless I missed something. I think Netflix’s biggest offering was Robert Harris adaptation Munich: The Edge of War, as well as a UK debut for Chloë Grace Moretz sci-fi Mother/Android. Moretz used to be on track to be a genuine movie star, but nowadays I feel like I only see her turn up in direct-to-streaming stuff no one seems to know is coming — like, out of nowhere, there’ll be a new film starring her on Netflix or Amazon now and then. I don’t know if that’s a deliberate career choice or a case of reduced options…

Meanwhile, over at Prime Video, there was George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, The Tender Bar, starring Ben Affleck, and acquired fourquel Hotel Transylvania: Transformania. I watched the first of those last year and thought it was moderately likeable, so maybe I’ll get to the fourth one day. There’s also Copshop, which I think they’re billing as a Premiere rather than an Original, or something? I can’t remember, and I can’t be bothered to load it up right now just to check. I guess it’s the difference between “stuff we own and will always be here” and “stuff we’ve bought exclusive rights to for a bit”. Sky’s ‘originals’ always feel like they’re in a similar limbo. This month those included Save the Cinema, which looks like a pleasant ‘little Britain’ kind of film, and Naked Singularity, which is apparently a heist movie starring John Boyega, Olivia Cooke, Bill Skarsgard. Again, having heard no one mention it doesn’t exactly suggest it’s worth one’s time.

As usual with Sky, more interesting were their other premieres — the likes of Pig, A Quiet Place Part II, The Paper Tigers, and No Sudden Move. That last one’s actually been on there since October, but somehow I’d missed that it was a new Steven Soderbergh film. I need to catch up on his stuff. They also had Nobody, which I’ve seen and really should’ve reviewed, and Supernova, which I bought on disc and really should’ve seen and reviewed. Over on Prime, there was Demonic — which catches my attention purely because it’s the latest from Neill Blomkamp, a director who’s star has faded to the point where this got very little attention during its cinema window — and, eh, a bunch of older stuff. If I listed everything I deemed worthy of bunging on my watchlist, we’d be here forever.

Netflix’s catalogue offerings all felt like hand-me-downs: The Gentlemen, after it was on Prime for yonks last year; and Dolittle, after it had been on iPlayer all over Christmas. Talking of iPlayer, they offered The Souvenir (which used to be on MUBI) and Mary Queen of Scots (which used to be on, er, Netflix). But, hey, at least you expect a free TV-schedule-derived streamer to be a relatively-late-to-the-game kinda place for these things. Still, iPlayer does a decent job nowadays, what with also offering the likes of The Sisters Brothers, sci-fi Little Joe, Lady Macbeth, and Personal Shopper. Plus, you’re more likely to find older classics there than pretty much anywhere else, which this month included In the Heat of the Night and a bunch of war films. You can find some similarly interesting stuff on Channel 4’s catchup — the main thing I want to try to catch from last month is Topsy-Turvy, which hasn’t been on UK TV for a ridiculously long time. It’s quite long though, and C4 does force adverts on you, so I can see myself failing at that again in February.

I’m still subscribed to MUBI, though considering they add a film a day and this month I’ve only long-listed three to mention, and the only one I’m going to bother to mention is Céline Sciamma’s debut, Water Lilies, I do wonder if I should be. (There’s a bunch of stuff on there I keep meaning to catch up on, though.) As for Disney+, they seem to mainly be focusing on series right now, but did offer Marvel’s Eternals weeks before its disc release. Seems to be the way things are going.

And talking of discs releases, yeah, I still bought dozens of the things. No such thing as a post-Christmas slump for me. Brand-spanking-new releases included the 4K discs of Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho and Ridley Scott’s The Last Duellast month I mooted that I should watch the latter on Disney+ before committing to buying it. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Hope I like it! Of course, most of my purchases are blind-buys anyway — I did exactly the same with Donnie Yen action-thriller Raging Fire. Exactly the same, because it was also a Zavvi-exclusive Steelbook that’s the UK’s only 4K release. Other new releases included more Asian action in Eureka’s double-bill of Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son; the mystery of a missing hammer in a nudist camp in Patrick; and importing the 4K of Blood for Dracula, aka Andy Warhol’s Dracula, to go with last month’s import of the 4K of Flesh for Frankenstein, aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein.

You’d think January sales might account for much disc purchasing this month, but not really. I nabbed Blade in 4K when it was randomly cheap on Amazon the other week; and I think silent drama Piccadilly was slightly reduced when I picked it up — but that’s about it. Although I did get the limited edition of anime In This Corner of the World for a steal. Places like HMV are still selling it for £20, but there’s a guy on eBay who has it for a fiver. Seemed worth a punt, and it paid off. Otherwise, there were a couple of things that came out late last year and I didn’t get for Christmas (the BFI’s release of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and StudioCanal’s 4K disc of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and a semi-random US order. I almost order in ‘bulk’ from the US these days, to average out the cost of shipping. There’s always stuff I want to pad out an order, anyhow. This one was provoked by a Criterion sale (from which I only got High Sierra and Hitchcock’s The Lodger in the end), plus the new release of Gambit (the Michael Caine / Shirley MacLaine one) and some more new releases that are still in the post. I used it as a chance to also get Kiss Me Kate (in 3D) and Vincent Price I Am Legend adaptation The Last Man on Earth.

Finally, I also bought the animated Transformers movie — fully known as The Transformers: The Movie, of course — on 4K. But does that really count as a failure when I consciously bought it to watch “sometime this year” as part of WDYMYHS? Something to mull over ’til next month…

The Head Hunter (2018)

2020 #101
Jordan Downey | 72 mins | download (HD) | 1.78:1 | USA / English | 15

The Head Hunter

Originally released in 2018 but not making its UK debut (as a direct-to-DVD release) until earlier this year, The Head Hunter is a low-budget independent fantasy/horror movie. Such a description might conjure up images of fancy-dress-like costumes, plastic props, locations that venture no further than a mate’s back garden and a nearby bit of forest, cinematography with all the hallmarks of digital video, and some embarrassingly basic and boxy CGI. None of this is true of The Head Hunter, which marries some impressive production design to an understanding of its limits — its low budget shows only in its small scale, rather than uncomfortably forcing its reach to exceed its grasp.

The setting: a medieval fantasy world. It could pass for our medieval times (in Germany it was retitled Viking Vengeance), were it not for the presence of nasty monsters. The title refers to the film’s unnamed protagonist (Christopher Rygh), who lives alone in the a remote shack in the woods, where he prepares weapons and potions. Occasionally he hears a distant horn, which beckons him to ride out in full armour. When he returns, he carries a new monster’s head for his wall of trophies, and some serious injuries too. Fortunately, his potions seem to have magic-level healing properties. He once had a daughter, who now lies buried beneath a nearby tree. One day, the opportunity arises for him to hunt the monster who slew her. “This time it’s personal,” and all that. Only things don’t quite go to plan…

I have, perhaps, described altogether too much of the plot there, because there’s not much more to the film than that, narratively speaking. Not only does the film run under an hour-and-a-quarter, including credits, but it’s more about moody atmospheric shots than plot; more about the preparation for battle than the fight itself. The Head Hunter may ride out to meet various monsters during the course of the film, but we don’t get to go ride along to see him at work.

That's a nice head. I'll have that.

This is where the small budget shows. It was made for just $30,000, which would buy you under two seconds of a Hobbit film (literally — I did the maths), with a cast and crew of no more than five on set at any one time. All the more impressive that it looks as good as it does, then, from the Head Hunter’s detailed and threatening suit of armour to the remote locations that pass through a couple of seasons. It’s a film that relies on atmosphere more than thrills, and it has that in spades, with cold, misty daytime scenes and fire-lit nighttime sequences, where who-knows-what lurks in the shadows.

As impressive as it is, all things considered, it nonetheless feels a bit drawn out at feature length (even at under 70 minutes before credits). It would probably have made an incredible 30-minute short, though then it would likely have had an even harder time finding an audience than it already has. But that’s not to say it’s not worth your time. If an action-lite atmosphere-heavy fantasy/horror movie sounds appealing, this may just scratch an itch. And it should serve as a great showreel calling card for co-writer/director Jordan Downey, who hopefully will convert it into bigger — or, at least, more story-filled — things.

3 out of 5

The Head Hunter is available on Sky Cinema and Now TV from today.

Serenity (2019)

2019 #27
Steven Knight | 106 mins | download (HD) | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Serenity

Sorry, Browncoats — this has nothing to do with Joss Whedon’s sci-fi classic. But if you’re instead worried this might supplant that in the general consciousness, never fear: despite coming with the pedigree of a cast headlined by Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway (plus Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, and Diane Lane), and a quality writer-director in Steven Knight (the man behind Locke and Peaky Blinders), this Serenity is a dud of epic proportions. I mean, the fact that, even with those names involved, it’s being dumped in the UK as a Sky Cinema Original should tell you something…

On the remote tropical paradise of Plymouth Island, Baker Dill (McConaughey) is a fisherman mostly taking tourists out on his boat, but eager to catch that one tuna that eludes him (a tuna isn’t quite as romantic a nemesis as a white whale, but I guess we’ll have to go with it). One day, his ex (Hathaway) turns up on the island with a proposition: she’ll pay him $10 million to drop her abusive husband (Clarke) in the ocean for the sharks. She has extra leverage in that hubby is beginning to get abusive towards the son Baker left behind, but who he still cares about. If that wasn’t enough of a moral quandary, there’s more to Plymouth Island than meets the eye, including a fishing equipment company rep who’s desperate to meet with Baker, but keeps just missing him…

An indecent proposal?

Serenity pitches itself as an island noir, and on the surface it ticks many of the right boxes, especially once Hathaway turns up, looking every inch the part of a classic femme fatale. You can tell she’s hamming it up a little too, playing into the role (with McConaughey, it’s harder to be sure…) It’s also beautifully lensed by DP Jess Hall, capturing both attractive sunny climes and a more overtly noir-ish vibe once a dramatic storm rolls in. But concurrent to that it’s clear some other mystery is going on, and here things get a bit more awkward, the film fumbling not to give too much away too soon. Personally, I think it fails — I guessed the twist pretty early, which I’m pretty sure was not intended, but if you don’t then it’s not cleverly built up to, it’s just muddled.

Once the twist is confirmed — and I say “confirmed” rather than “revealed” because, even though I guessed it, it seemed so loopy that I thought I must be wrong — the whole affair takes on a different light. But it’s not a well thought-through one. It’s the kind of twist that changes your perspective on everything you’ve seen, which is usually a neat development, but here it raises way more questions than it answers. To go into them would be spoilery… so, spoilers follow throughout the next paragraph.

So, we’re supposed to believe this kid has programmed a fishing game starring his dad — not wholly implausible. But it’s one where his dad frequently gets his kit off and shags around for money? I guess we could excuse this as the kid’s been playing too much stuff like Grand Theft Auto and thinks that’s what happens in games, if we’re being kind. But one day he decides to rewrite this game to make it about his dad committing murder, which the character in the game then objects to, and the game turns its own existing rules into an NPC to fight back? What, did this kid accidentally just program a full blown AI? Or several AIs? Or are we going with a Toy Story-esque notion where video game characters are actually sentient? And then somehow his dad actually doing it in-game encourages the kid to murder his real-life stepdad, which we learn thanks to some cheap news voiceover?

So far so noir

Serenity is such a ridiculous mess of a movie that it almost swings back round to being entertaining in its audacity. For me, though, it would need to be better constructed to pull that about-turn off. If it had fully considered the twist and its implications, thought it all through and played by all the necessary rules, some of the people who are laughing at it would still be laughing at it just for the basic concept, but I’d admire it at the very least for committing to its bit. Because it doesn’t, the only reason to consider watching is to marvel at its bizarre eccentricity.

2 out of 5

Serenity will be available on Sky Cinema from midnight tonight, with a limited UK theatrical release from tomorrow.

Anon (2018)

2018 #95
Andrew Niccol | 100 mins | download (HD) | 2.39:1 + 1.78:1 | Germany / English | 15

Anon

Sky Cinema’s latest acquisition in their attempt to establish a “Netflix original”-style brand is, ironically, also a Netflix ‘original’… just not in the UK (in the US, it was released on Netflix last week). It’s also probably their most promising grab yet… although when its forerunners are Monster Family and The Hurricane Heist, that’s not saying much. But this is a new sci-fi/thriller from the writer-director of Gattaca, so that’s gotta be worth a look… even if he has spent most of the intervening two decades making some, shall we say, less-well-regarded movies.

It’s set in a near future where everyone has ocular implants that feed a constant stream of data, like non-stop augmented reality, identifying people and places, putting digital adverts on the side of buildings, and so on. These devices are connected up to a central network that allows what everyone sees to be monitored and played back when needed — for example, if a crime is committed. It’s the ultimate eyewitness, literally. When someone’s murdered, the police can just play back the last few moments of the victim’s life to see the killer. But when bodies start turning up whose final moments have been tampered with, detective Sal Frieland (Clive Owen) finds himself on the trail of an off-the-grid hacker (Amanda Seyfried) with the ability to alter records — and when the entire system is based on the notion that what’s recorded is unequivocal truth, her skills are a massive potential threat.

Mad skillz

Many a lazy review has described Anon as “like a Black Mirror episode”, which is not wholly inaccurate but is getting to be a stale descriptor — Charlie Brooker didn’t invent high-concept dystopian sci-fi about the dangers of future technology, so why wheel out the comparison every time anyone else dares venture into the same ballpark nowadays? Nonetheless, that is the ballpark Anon is playing in, but mixing speculative sci-fi with an equal dose of hardboiled noir to keep things spicy.

That’s not my only problem with other reviews, though, many of which have put forth low scores and negative reactions. I saw some of them in advance of my viewing, so while watching I kept thinking, “it must go badly wrong later, because so far it’s great.” Well, that moment never came. I wouldn’t say the film is perfect — some parts, especially later on, are a tad hurried, meaning more clarity of motive would be nice — but, for me, the whole worked. There are some interesting sci-fi ideas (all the stuff about being able to trust what you see, including a standout extended sequence where the hacker messes with Sal’s head), plus it feeds some ever-relevant commentary on privacy and surveillance, with the added texture of a noir-shaped plot and atmosphere for good measure.

In fairness, there’s clichéd stuff too, though I’m not sure how much it should bother us. For one example, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Sal has a “dead kid” backstory, something which is a bit overdone at this point, but your mileage will vary on how much that stuff bothers you — while some of us just think it’s a tired trope, for others it seems to completely ruin the film. Conversely, I read someone criticise it for using “noir clichés” and just thought “that’s called genre, kid”. I also saw a review which decided the film was worth 1-out-of-10 just because there was a scene where they were smoking indoors, so there’s no accounting for what different people will consider important in their assessment of artistic quality.

Gunning for other reviewers

In my opinion, Niccol and co have offered up a well-realised near-future world — not necessarily fully imagined (it’s never explained how we got to a point where everyone has these implants, seemingly enforced by law, but that doesn’t really matter), but the way the tech is depicted and how it affects everyday life is very believable. We’re thrown into the deep-end of this environment, with just enough exposition to keep up, before the film quickly moves onto the intriguing mystery that challenges the rules of this world — and considering we’ve only just learnt the rules, being able to get straight to how they’re being circumvented is impressively economical storytelling. It’s also a neat setup for having to go back to old-fashioned cloak-and-dagger-type detective work in a modern setting — this future is so high-tech, the only way to stop the criminal from detecting the operation against her is to put Sal undercover using no-tech communication.

It’s a really well made film, too. The locations are suitably evocative — the police buildings are defined by huge brutalist concrete slabs — which have been attentively framed and shot, without show-off-y camerawork. Then there’s the on-screen graphics during the point-of-view shots, which are detailed and thorough in their content, design, and execution. Their plausibility lends an automatic verisimilitude to the whole situation. And the POV shots had another nice surprise in store…

Brutal

Regular readers may recall that I’m a fan of a good variable aspect ratio, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that Anon features that technique — it’s unusual to see it outside of huge-budget films that have been shot/formatted for IMAX, and even then there’s no guarantee the multi-ratio version will be widely available (cf. Marvel only including them on 3D Blu-rays; Brad Bird not allowing Ghost Protocol to be released with it at all). In Anon, the ‘drama’ scenes are presented in your movie-standard 2.35:1, but it expands to a screen-filling 16:9 every time we see through someone’s eyes. These changes are very effective. The film employs the technique early and then often, so it doesn’t have the “wow” factor that some IMAX films achieve even when viewed at home, but it’s suitably immersive. Indeed, this would probably play really well on a vision-filling IMAX screen. The fact I wouldn’t have a chance to see it even if it did get IMAX showings means I’m not too sad it’s a direct-to-streaming release.

That said, it’s kind of a shame Sky snapped it up over here. This is anecdotal evidence I know, but I know far more people with Netflix (like, pretty much everyone nowadays) than with Sky Cinema (I’m not sure I know anyone but me, actually, and I only subscribe occasionally), and I’d like to be able to recommend this to people, especially so as to go against the grain of the criticisms that I feel have been unwarrantedly negative. Well, obviously I can still recommend it, but how useful is that if people aren’t going to get the chance to see it on the basis of that recommendation?

Who's that girl?

Nonetheless, recommend it I shall. Perhaps Anon can’t equal other works at the top-tier of its genre, but I feel some have been unfair in writing it off. Any familiarities in the shape of its plot are in aid of creating that noir atmosphere, while the sci-fi concepts are reasonably considered and executed. For fans of the genres involved, it’s definitely worth a look.

4 out of 5

Anon is available on Sky Cinema from today.

The Hurricane Heist (2018)

2018 #60
Rob Cohen | 99 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 12A / PG-13

The Hurricane Heist

Billed as a “Sky Cinema Original Movie” here in the UK (which, I presume, is like half of Netflix’s “original” movies — i.e. they paid for exclusive rights to something already completed), The Hurricane Heist… does what it says on the tin, really: as a hurricane strikes Alabama, a gang of crooks plan to use it as cover to rob a Treasury facility and its $600 million of waiting-to-be-shredded old notes. What they didn’t count on was crack ATF agent Casey Corbyn (Maggie Grace), who attempts to stop them with the help of meteorologist Will Rutledge (Toby Kebbell) — who drives a tank-like hurricane-proof car — and his ex-military mechanic brother Breeze (Ryan Kwanten).

Yes, a film called The Hurricane Heist has a main character called “Breeze”.

I suppose that’s indicative of the tone the film’s shooting for, really. It’s not Sharknado, but you have to hope the filmmakers knew it was cheap and cheesy as hell and wanted to play up to that. It’s only sporadically successful — much of the dialogue is just bad rather than so-bad-it’s-good, for example — but it has its moments. About halfway through there’s a sequence where Will throws scrap hubcaps into the wind so that they fly at the bad guys like spinning discs of death, at which point the film looks like it might tip from “so mediocre it’s mediocre” into “utter genius”. Sadly, it doesn’t keep that inventiveness up for more than about ten seconds, but at least it means there’s something memorable here. And while it may generally look and feel kinda cheap, there’s a massive amount of practical wind and rain being thrown around to create the storm, which is pretty effective.

The wet and the windiest

Another success comes in a couple of amusing villain deaths during the climax, but to say more would spoil things. The chief villain is played by Ralph Ineson, whose basic skill as a performer at least elevates that role somewhat. Toby Kebbell is probably better than this too, though considering some of his other choices in the past couple of years (Ben-Hur, Warcraft, Fantastic Four) maybe he’s lucky to get this now. Certainly, this is more entertaining than the ones I’ve seen of those.

If The Hurricane Heist had been made 20 years ago it probably would’ve been a major blockbuster. It certainly looks like the CGI was produced back then. Now… well, it’s gone direct to Sky Cinema, hasn’t it? Maybe it’ll find a cult following, but I’m not sure it’s quite barmy enough to achieve that so-bad-it’s-good love. It is pretty stupid and definitely cheesy, but… well, it’s not so much boring as… not exciting. Like, it’s middling. It’s okay. It’s kinda fun. You won’t remember much of it the day after, but for a bit of daft brain-off action on a lazy evening, it’s alright.

3 out of 5

The Hurricane Heist is allegedly in some UK cinemas now. It’s definitely available on Sky Cinema, and will be (presumably exclusively) until at least 5th April 2028.

The Accountant (2016)

2017 #73
Gavin O’Connor | 128 mins | download (HD) | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

The Accountant

In this action-thriller from the director of the overrated Warrior, Ben Affleck stars as Chris Wolff, an autistic accountant who excels at auditing complex financial records. No, wait! I did say action-thriller, because Chris’ clients are mostly criminal organisations, and he uses the martial arts training his father instilled as a child to double up as a hitman. See, it’s exciting really.

When Chris is called to audit a robotics company (run by John Lithgow) who have found irregularities in their books (why this criminal accountant is called to work for a legit company I can’t remember, but I’m sure it was explained in the film), he unexpectedly bonds with Dana (Anna Kendrick), the company accountant who spotted the problem. After his audit unearths evidence of embezzlement, both Chris and Dana find themselves the target of bad people (led by Jon Bernthal) who want to keep the company’s secrets. Meanwhile, a couple of FBI agents (J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are on the trail of the mysterious criminal known primarily as “the Accountant”…

Maths!

The Accountant has lots of moving bits and pieces — I’ve not even alluded to all of them in that summary — but to call it a complicated film would be either too generous or a disservice, depending on your point of view. There’s a clarity to it all that keeps it easy to follow but suitably engaging, even as it plays out multiple storylines in a couple of time periods (there are flashbacks aplenty to Chris’ childhood training). And if you’re thinking, “finally a film that makes accounting exciting!”, I’m sorry to disappoint you but Chris’ maths skills are really just a MacGuffin to get the ball rolling. What it does deliver is a decent thriller plot, with a couple of twists to keep things lively. It’s also a pretty satisfying narrative — I’m not sure there’s ever been another movie that so thoroughly tied up everything into nice neat little bows. I suppose that’s at least kind of appropriate given the hero’s condition.

The action element is mainly reserved for the second half, when Chris has to deal with the people out to get him. This isn’t one for adrenaline junkies — it’s not a nonstop fight-fest like, say, a Bourne movie — but there’s a suitably violent climax nonetheless.

Shooting!

In some respects The Accountant shouldn’t be a good movie. It treats autism as a superpower, which is both inaccurate and turning into a cliché; but it doesn’t do it so egregiously that it feels entirely tacky. The whole side story with the FBI also feels kind of clunky, though at least eventually goes somewhere — whether that somewhere is relevant and clever, or pointless and daft for the sake of a twist, is up to your own judgement. Same goes for the other major final-act reveal.

Yet, for all that, it’s kind of fun. Not in the obvious jokey way that, say, Guardians of the Galaxy is fun, but in the way that it provides decent characters, decent thrills, decent action, and a thorough set of conclusions that put pins in everything, including things you didn’t even think needed tying up. There may be points in the middle when you come close to rolling your eyes and almost wanting to give up on it, but by the end it’s all pretty satisfying.

4 out of 5

The Accountant is available on Sky Cinema from today.