The 2021 List: January

I’m back. Well, I’ve not really been away, just side-lined by work and life. I’m sure anyone reading this appreciates just how strange life is getting, and how we’re getting worn down. Its really quite relentless, and most nights now I’m so tired in the evenings I don’t have energy to concentrate enough to even watch a film, let alone write about it. Maybe I just need a holiday (ha, ha) – ain’t that the truth/sick joke (delete as appropriate). Its been  more than two years since my last holiday anywhere, and my booked holiday in May (which was deferred from May last year, for reasons obvious to everyone) is looking as unlikely as Vangelis releasing an anthology of his unreleased soundtracks headlined by a complete Blade Runner. Or him ever releasing that Juno to Jupiter album.

So what have I been watching? Not included on the list waiting for your perusal below as its not finished until next Wednesday, is Season Five of The Expanse, which has been quite brilliant. As someone who championed this series way back when I had to import the Blu-rays to watch it, its great to see the show having some critical success before it ends next year. Amazon saving The Expanse from its third-season cancellation is the rescue Farscape deserved but never got. Anyway, more on that next week/month/when I get to write about it.

toastJanuary is a hell of a bleak month, and Lockdown is just making it all the bleaker. I’ve been retreating to sitcoms, mostly Toast of London, a show from a few years back that I vaguely recall noticing but never watching. Finally watching it thanks to the Netflix algorithm bringing it back to my attention,  its quite funny and quirky and I enjoyed it enough to binge all three seasons of it, but not enough to write a post about it. There’s that energy-sapping thing again. I don’t know. There was a feeling of biding time watching it; I knew I should be watching something more worthwhile but it was low-effort, making little demand of me. I’ve just moved on to another feast courtesy of the Netflix algorithm, an American sitcom titled Superstore, currently watching season one. There’s five seasons of this show and I never knew it even existed until I started watching it last week. I think this is what’s called Sitcom Hell. I need to find some escape.

Television

Most ill-conceived reboot of the month:

2. Black Narcissus (BBC Miniseries)

Sitcom ‘comfort food of the month’ (lockdown special):

6) Toast of London Season One

7) Toast of London Season Two

11) Toast of London Season Three

Sexed-up Downton Abbey of the month:

15) Bridgerton Season One

Female Space Messiah Award:

9) Star Trek: Discovery Season Three 

Films:

The Good, and the even Better:

3) Proxima (2019)

4. Hidden Figures (2016)

5) The Garment Jungle

8) The Lineup (1958)

16) The Wages of Fear (1953)

The Distinctly Average:

10) The Gentlemen (2019)

12) Sputnik (2020)

14) The Wackiest Ship in the Navy (1961)

The Utterly Woeful:

1) The Midnight Sky (2020)

13) Outside the Wire (2021)

So that’s sixteen titles, split between six seasons of TV shows and ten films. Regards re-watching stuff, apart from the fantastic Millennium Actress that I did actually post about, I did re-watch The Two Towers, the second film of the LOTR trilogy, part of the 4K UHD boxset that came out late last year and which I seem to be struggling to get to actually watch, never mind actually writing about. I watched The Fellowship of the Ring over the Christmas period, and while its proving a struggle, strangely, to get around to watching all three films (possibly its because they are the extended versions which makes it awkward to schedule, in all honesty, with everything else going on) its been very interesting, returning to what is quite possibly the last genuinely great blockbuster trilogy ever made, and seeing how well they have aged (or not).  I intend to possibly expand upon this in a future post once I’ve managed to watch The Return of the King, which, on my apparently monthly schedule will happen in February. Some people managed marathons of the LOTR in a single day, or over three consecutive days- I haven’t even managed it over three weekends.

It has occurred to me that the sheer bravura of shooting all three films back-to-back might be something we never see again, considering the state of theatrical exhibition in this Covid World. We are in a situation now in which traditional blockbusters are not economically viable and are being delayed one or even two years waiting for some kind of stability regards exhibition. Where this leaves Villenueve’s Dune and its ‘will-they-won’t-they’ second film completing its story is anyone’s guess. At some point if things don’t change, more of these films will end up relegated to streaming premieres such as those Warner have announced for HBO Max in America, and what that means for studios cutting their losses and plans for 2023, 2024 etc is really a concern.

So anyway, that’s January. Looking towards February, well, its anyone’s guess how that month will likely turn out. Indicator’s second Columbia Noir set is due out so I look forward to getting into that, having so enjoyed the first set. And I have a pile of unwatched films on the Tivo etc and waiting on Netflix and Amazon, if I can ever muster the enthusiasm to watch any of it. Or indeed the time, due to working at home proving particularly problematic of late. We’ll just have to see. Oh, and its possibly going to include my biggest non-event of a birthday in all my 55 revolutions of the sun. That should be curious, although as a bonus it sees me jump up a group on the Vaccination schedule. Life. Is. So. Strange. Now.

COVID-Vac-priority-tiers

The Criterion Six

criterion6I don’t really write much about disc purchases too often of late. Its true that I’ve even tried to limit those purchases, mainly because I’ve so many discs now, too many double-dips across so many formats over the years (even for a film-lover that can be wearing) and too many on the shelf still unwatched. There’s only one thing worse than spending too much money on films I only watch once, and that’s films I still haven’t gotten around to watching at all.

In any case, sometimes sales get the better of me, and in the past week or so a sale on Criterion discs across most vendors here in the UK has just proved too much to resist, especially as I’ve recently been turning my attention to older films that I’ve missed. So here is the Criterion Six- six films that I have bought in the past two weeks while the sale was running. I’m intending to make a point of both watching and reviewing these films to justify, well, buying them.

I tried to be a bit canny choosing the films- indeed I actually struggled to pick six (the offer was two films for £25 so I had to pick films in pairs) as some films in the offer I already owned and I wanted the ones I chose to be films I was really curious to watch, rather than films that might just end up on that shelf. Naturally another thing was to choose films I hadn’t seen before (although one slipped through that net) so that nixed the temptations of the Criterion Solaris and Stalker. So anyway, a few notes about the films I chose:

c6cranesThe Cranes Are Flying: This is a film/release that exemplifies what is so great about boutique labels like Criterion, Arrow etc: up until about a week ago, I didn’t even know this film existed. The beautiful cover art on the Criterion caught my eye first (so yeah, good graphic design still matters!), and then investigating it, the film became irresistible to me. A Russian film from 1957, its described as being beautifully shot and powerfully affecting, and someone online reckoned it was similar in theme and mood to Legends of the Fall, only better. That’s a hell of a bait to someone like me, and got to be worth what amounts to a £12.50 punt: blind buys can be exciting and so rewarding. Besides which I really don’t see enough World Cinema, so should be a welcome change of pace.

c6kissKiss Me Deadly: The first thing I looked for when going through the Criterion’s in the offer was film noir, because that’s what I’ve been settling into the past few weeks (blame Covid 19 I suppose) and a genre I’ve always found enjoyable: pretty much a safe bet for a blind buy. As usual I’ve avoided any details and dodged the trailers, but it looks pretty wild from what I’ve seen of it.

Anatomy of a Murder: This is the film that got me onto this Criterion deal in the first place, so has a lot to answer for. Bunny Lake is Missing and Laura brought me to this one, as its directed by Otto Preminger, and I seem to be going through his filmography at the moment. The fact that it starred one of my favourite actors, the great James Stewart sealed the deal and had me looking for another Criterion to go with it. I actually watched this last night and really enjoyed it, so review coming soon: I will just say that this film is so morally obtuse it should have been re-titled Fifty Shades of Grey.

Detour: Another film noir and one with quite a reputation by all accounts, and another one of those films that I had no idea even existed a few weeks ago. Its cheaply made on half a shoestring and perhaps as a consequence of that is very short (69 mins, crikey) and used to be available only in horrible prints, apparently, but this release followed an extensive restoration. Really curious about this one, but I have the feeling I need to wait for the right night to watch it (suspect its absolutely a late-night experience like most, if not all, film noir but maybe in this case especially so).

c6kluteKlute: I’ve heard about this one but never seen it. I’m a big fan of 1970s American Cinema and love the frequent sense of paranoia that infects so many films of that era (The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor etc). I’ve never really had much time for Jane Fonda in films, no doubt one of the reasons I’ve never seen this before, so I’d be pleasantly surprised if her turn here impresses me, but I am a fan of Donald Sutherland so hopefully worth the punt at the price being asked. I’m reminded however that I never bought Three Days of the Condor on Blu-ray, so if this reignites my penchant for 1970s American Cinema it could turn out be more expensive a purchase than initially thought.

c6failFail Safe: The one film of the six that I have seen before- once, and many years ago: late at night on BBC2 when it blew my mind. It used to be so great, watching late-night films, its something nobody seems to do anymore on the network channels. Anyway, I’m looking forward to watching this again after so many years in a much better presentation than all those years ago.

A sense of the alien in films pre-Covid19

contagionIts really strange watching films of late. There are scenes with crowds and people getting together, even times when  -horror!- someone shakes someone else’s hand in greeting or hugs somebody. Such casual wanton misbehaviour! Whenever this happens I get this weird feeling that something is terribly wrong and alien about it.

We’ve only had a few weeks of this lockdown/social isolation thing going on, and its pretty horrible not being able to visit friends or family properly and, er, touch people like we used to. But the strange thing, even almost insidious thing about it, really, is how it now looks so weird seeing the old ‘normal’ way of living in films and being almost shocked by seeing it. Its a little like seeing pre-2000 films in which people smoke a lot; the further back in time when the film was made, the more prevalent and ‘social’ it is – go back to a film made in the and 1950s and people tend to smoke endlessly in the oddest places (in retrospect) and its so inclusive and social as the people progressively damage each others health and encourage each other to work harder at it. Thinking its fun, that its… sexy.  The old being ‘human’ becomes something decidedly alien.

That’s happening now, as if things actually changed overnight. I’m living in a world in which chat shows on television have ‘virtual’ interviews via webcam or game shows have panellists playing from home (Have I Got News For You is such a bizarre experience just now its almost like watching a Japanese game show). Even on Breakfast television presenters are either doing so remotely from home or sitting in the studio several feet apart, and yet in movies, naturally, things are from a different time, like, from a month ago or something, and obviously very different- its just so weird how it feels watching it. I have to exercise additional suspension of disbelief to just accept such ridiculous scenarios lacking social distancing or enhanced cleanliness. The world has gone crazy and its left all our movies feeling just that little bit odder and unreal.

Mind you, the other night I noticed Netflix have got Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion available, a film I haven’t seen since I first saw it back in 2011 on a rental and like some damn fool who hasn’t had enough fear from watching the news, I watched the first half of it. How horribly prescient that film is proving to be, and suddenly it looks like the most normal film I’m watching now. Seeing people wearing masks, gloves and PPE and trying to manage containment and isolation procedures is like, everyday stuff now. No longer as alien as it seemed back in 2011, its now, er, so normal.

We need life to go back to weird, like those other movies, as soon as safely possible.