Film diary: 3/20

If you’re on Letterboxd, I’m here.

Films seen: 21
Films directed by women: 1 (down 5)
Strong recommendations: Raiders of the Lost Ark, A Scanner Darkly, Fantasia, Cabaret

“I don’t suppose I’ll watch as many next month.” Too right. Also, I’ve really let this log slide. Although, looking through the archives has reminded me how many great movies I’ve watched this year. (Putting things on Letterboxd works out about as well as Goodreads for me. There’s phases where tracking helps me watch or read more, and phases where the practice of doing so puts me off. Clearly we slipped into the latter.)

I’ve done a blog about film habits this week, which you will find here. It was going to be in this post, but it was getting long. March for me was about rewatching Indiana Jones for the first time in years, and the launch of Disney+ expanding my access to loads of 70s kids films I will never watch.

Full list follows:

Hellboy (2019, dir. Neil Marshall)
I will admit that I was not paying this film the full attention I might have. However, I don’t think it would have rewarded it. There are plenty of individual things I liked about it, but overwhelmingly it was an inconsistent and unmoving exercise. It does occur to me, though, that the first Hellboy was not a classic (to the best of my recollection) and though this film is below that standard, it is on par with what you usually got from the 2000s wave of comic adaptations. This does suggest that the McDonald’s Marvel approach has taught us as an audience to expect a minimum standard from these films. However, I can’t knock a film for trying to be different. Underwhelming but passable. (6/3/20)

Castle in the Sky (1986, dir. Hayao Miyazaki)
I’m less fond of Miyazaki’s adventure comedies than I am of his fairy tales – which is somewhat ironic, since the absence of obvious action and direct plot was the main thing I had to get my head around when I began watching his films. This film is pretty straightforward, but is an early work that is unremarkable when set against the rest. Still, the opening sequence is fantastic, and the robots, the castle and the sky pirates are all classic Ghibli, so make the visit worthwhile. (7/3/20, rewatch)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (2018, dir. Steven Spielberg)
I mean, it’s Raiders. What can you say? (8/3/20, rewatch)

A Scanner Darkly (2006, dir. Richard Linklater)
An astonishing symphony of visual essays, where the spell is only broken This is the Dick film most like the experience of reading one of his novels. Also, it is one of the most grounded and, sadly, relevant works. The animation is great, the performances peerless, it’s a gem of a film. (8/3/20, rewatch)

Dune (1984, dir. David Lynch)
I enjoyed it much more than the last time I saw it. Still isn’t very good. Lynch’s script adapts the novel very unevenly – the first third of the book is fully half of the film, and it runs out of space for the rest, so the film just reads like they were running out time to make the thing. And it doesn’t make its own strides as a film either. Still, some great individual moments. (13/3/20, rewatch)

David Lynch: The Art Life (2016, dir. Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Jon Nguyen)
Not a revelatory doc, but a good slice-of-life. (14/3/20)

Power Rangers (2017, dir. Dean Israelite)
As far as I recall – and I’m not going back to check – the original series was a middling-fair American adaptation of a middling-fair Japanese series. The interest came from the culture clash, rather than any inherent qualities above and beyond your standard superhero/mecha fair.

By composting Mighty Morphin Power Rangers through Transformers/Marvel filters, adding liberal product placement, and giving it an inexplicable PG-13 sheen, the whole thing is genericised into pointlessness. Don’t get me wrong, the young cast is pretty great, and it’s fairly entertaining as it’s going along. That doesn’t mean it’s any good, and it’s certainly no great loss that it didn’t become yet another franchise. (14/3/20)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, dir. Steven Spielberg)
A lesser entry, and the cultural tone-deafness was bad then and worse now. However, it still has its moments, and Spielberg rarely makes a complete stinker. (15/3/20, rewatch)

Mary and the Witch’s Flower (1995, dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
It’s not a bad film per se, and there’s plenty to recommend it. However, it’s so generically Ghibli without being specifically a Miyazaki film that it feels more like a brand extension than it’s own work of art. Modest Heroes suggests the studio may turn out to be more than a covers band, though, which is promising. (19/3/20)

A Quiet Place (2018, dir. John Krasinski)
Great meat-and-potatoes horror flick. Best part: 90 minutes long! Including credits! Ah, the lost art of making a film the length of a film. (20/3/20)

Black Dynamite (2009, dir. Scott Sanders)
Top blaxpoitation comedy. (20/3/20)

Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki (2016, dir. Kaku Arakawa)
In the vein of The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (though with somewhat more slapdash cinematography), it’s a privilege to see the master at work. And I’m glad I don’t work with him. (21/3/20)

Much Ado About Nothing (2012, dir. Joss Whedon)
This time round we gave it the full early modern experience, by chatting throughout with a glass of something on the go. The fact the film survived the experience is testament to Mr. S. (it’s not all about the language) and of course, Mr W. and his troupe of returning players. Not everyone here is a born Shakesperian actor – and even those who are have wobbles – but the energy of the cast, and understanding of the text shown by the adaptation, place this in the top tier of Bard films for me. (21/3/20, rewatch)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, dir. Steven Spielberg)
The tl;dr for this film is I like it more than you do, but I probably like the other films less because I have a different relationship to them than the way other’s talk about them, and I happen to think this is on a par with Crusade, not as racist and incoherent as Temple of Doom, and none of them touch Raiders. (22/3/20, rewatch)

Fantasia (1940, dir. Various)
I mean, I’m listening to it while I work rather than watching it, mainly to justify getting Disney+. But it’s a great movie to listen to, and occasionally glance at, as well as being a masterpiece of animation. (24/3/20, rewatch)

Fantasia 2000 (1999, dir. Various)
Another great film to have on in the background, although the celebrity introductions are even more distracting in that context. (24/3/20, rewatch)

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019, dir. Tim Miller)
This is probably the best-made Terminator film in my lifetime. However, the complete absence of new ideas, and the complete waste of Linda Hamilton’s return to the franchise, has only made me switch from wishing they could make one more good one, to wishing they would just stop.

The Terminator is an unassailable classic, and will always be my favourite. T2 is great, only diminished by, like Aliens, influencing so much blockbuster filmmaking since that it risks seeming anonymous in retrospect. Rise of the Machines is a generic ’00s action film, something I have more tolerance for than most because that was my era, with a bold and interesting ending. I haven’t seen The Sarah Connor Chronicles and I’m not currently likely to. Salvation was a great idea undermined by the stodgy filmmaking. Genisys was an incompetent mess.

Dark Fate is just generic as all hell. This could be any movie by anyone. The only reason it was made is that someone spent money on the rights to make Terminator movies, and now we have to suffer through them trying to recoup their investment.

I know I’m part of the problem, watching these movies. It’s the part of my cinematic habit I least like. But at least some of these exercises in accounting are fun. With the Terminator franchise, the fun went out of it a long time ago. (24/3/20)

The Cat from Outer Space (1978, dir. Norman Tokar)
You know, this happens to be the first feature film I watched on Disney+, not counting putting the Fantasias on in the background while I worked. My housemate has some nostalgia for this film. I had never seen it, but I’m sure I saw one or two of Disney’s pet-based live action movies from the 60s and 70s as a kid. I thought they were tedious then, and, by this evidence, they’re tedious now. (26/3/20)

Oliver & Company (1988, dir. George Scribner)
If you wish to be granular, which I always do, this was the only Disney classic from before 2000, that wasn’t a package film, that I hadn’t seen. The only one I have left is Brother Bear, apart from those 40s productions (and Victory Through Air Power and So Dear To My Heart, I guess).

I don’t believe I saved the best to last. You could argue the toss whether this was the last cartoon made before the Disney renaissance, or whether The Rescuers Down Under was the real last gasp. Both were among the first put into production under Eisner and Katzenberg, but creatively speaking they share the problems of the era before them. (Obviously it was The Little Mermaid, released in-between them, that pointed the way to the studio’s 90s success.)

At least with The Rescuers Down Under I like the all-digital animation. The sequences that use the CAPS system are fine here too. However, traditional animation had been on a decline at Disney since the 60s, and by the point of Oliver & Company it had become as ugly as Don Bluth’s films, certainly the 90s ones.

The story is a problem too. The basic plot is fine, because it’s Dickens. However, the takes on the characters are either annoying or bland, there’s no real threat, and I didn’t care about anything that was happening. You’d think I’d be able to give a pass on the music, but it was never integrated or necessary. Also, I’m coming to the separate but linked realisation that, as much as I respect his songwriting, I’m not a massive fan of Billy Joel.

I always hate the idea that critics resort to that “whatever I think, kids will like it.” Kids are not uncritical. I would only suggest it if they’re in the position I was, where they’ve watched pretty much everything else multiple times, and even then you’re not likely to watch it more than once. (27/3/20)

Lady and the Tramp (2019, dir. Charlie Bean)
A warm hug of a film. Full review here. (28/3/20)

Cabaret (1972, dir. Bob Fosse)
This time around I happened to focus less on the musical performances, and become completely drawn in by the drama. It’s a compelling, emotional, and beautiful work of art. It’s a privilege to have it. However, I need to get it on blu-ray – the letterboxed DVD copy we were stuck with does the cinematography no justice. (29/3/20, rewatch)