Saturday, October 3, 2020

What I've Caught Up With, September 2020

I remarked on a recent post that I’m thinking about a potential new direction with the Oscar Got It Wrong posts coming up—I’ll be done with the completed categories before the end of this year (not including 2019) and I’ll be left with those categories where I can’t find all of the potential entrants.

I also asked for suggestions of films not on any of my lists, and you have all delivered. What follows will be the first monthly update of films for which I’m not going to write a full review, but which I have finally caught up with. Not reviewing these in full is not in any respect a knock on these films, many of which will be better than movies to which I have devoted a thousand or more words. No, it’s really just a volume thing. I can’t just review movies all day, as much as I would like that to happen. Also, it will only include movies from that giant list—not any weird horror movies or additional films (like, say The Adventures of Tintin, which I just watched) that aren’t listed.

So, expect to see these posts on the first Saturday of the month.

What I’ve Caught Up With, September 2020:
Film: The Sea Wolf

Based on the Jack London story, this has a dynamite cast—John Garfield, Alexander Knox, Ida Lupino, Edward G. Robinson, and features Barry Fitzgerald and Gene Lockhart in small roles. This is one of those muscular adventure movies that feels like it could have been a war film, and probably was intended to have that sort of effect without really endorsing a side on WWII in the year just before the U.S. entered. This was a lot darker than I expected it to be, and I mean that in a good way. How Robinson and Lupino managed to avoid Oscar nominations for their entire career, I will never understand.

Film: Samurai Rebellion(Joi-uchi: Hairyo Tsuma Shimatsu)

When I think of samurai movies, I think of Kurosawa, but this one is from Masaki Kobayashi in very much the same style. A basic plot that includes a warlord’s concubine being force married to the son of his vassal, and then that concubine being demanded back after she and her new husband fall in love. That’s the rebellion that is happening here—the samurai father decides to defend the love of his son and his family. It’s stylized, as expected, and stylized in exactly the right way to be everything I wanted it to be. It stars Toshiro Mifune, so it has any additional samurai cred it might have needed.

Film: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Widely considered the best of the animated Batman movies, Mask of the Phantasm genuinely does raise the bar. This is the first animated Batman movie (not show) to feature the classic pairing of Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Bats and Mark Hamill as The Joker. We’re naturally going to get a little bit of origin story here, but not too much—we don’t have to watch Thomas and Martha Wayne get murdered for the umpteenth time. What I find most interesting, and often do with animated Batman films, is how they exist in a world that is both modern and somehow 1943 at the same time.

Film: The Book of Life

I genuinely don’t get this. The Book of Life features a guy in Mexico who wants to play guitar but is shamed by his family into a different career. He ends up in the land of the dead on Dia de los Muertos and has to fight for what he loves. This was produced by a Mexican (Guillermo del Toro) and directed by a Mexican (Jorge R. Gutierrez) and completely ignored at the Oscars. Three years later, Coco, written, directed, and produced by people whiter than me wins Best Animated Feature with many of the same plot elements. Was it the weird visual style? I don’t care—this was charming. (For the record, Coco was absolutely the right winner for its Oscar year. I just…Oscar has a race problem. That’s all I will say.)

Film: Emma (1996)

Genteel romantic comedy based on the Jane Austen novel of the same name puts Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role as the Georgian matchmaker. This covers in some respects a lot of the same ground of romance among the gentry and the honorable poor. It does feel like lesser Austen to me, though—far less engaging than Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. This might simply be the presence of Paltrow, who I have grown to dislike. The cast does include Toni Collette, Alan Cumming, and Ewan McGregor, though, so it’s not all a wash. Still, there’s better Austen out there, and better Austen adaptations.


  1. With over 900 titles to go through the mini reviews are the most sensible option, unless you watch something that really inspires you to write about it in depth. I'm sure somewhere in that 900 plus that will happen from time to time.

    I've seen other versions of The Sea Wolf and while the story always remains solid none have ever approached this one. Of course I love Garfield and Ida Lupino, two of my all-time favorites, who are exemplary but the real dynamic is between Robinson and Knox and they make their interplay so compelling it keeps you involved from beginning to end. For a studio bound film its grimy, fog shrouded atmosphere adds tremendously to setting an effective mood. I share your mystification at the complete lack of nominations for Ida and EGR.

    I am most definitely not a Paltrow fan, even before she morphed into the noxious GOOP girl that she is now I found her wan and of only spotty acting ability (love her mother though), but Emma is the one place she didn't bother me. Sure the film would have been better with Kate Winslet in the title role but the bench of actors that surrounds Paltrow is so strong, Sophie Thompson in particular really makes something of Miss Bates, that they shore her up.

    I haven't seen the other three, I have a low tolerance for animation so those two will most likely go unseen. Asian cinema outside of Kurosawa is one of my weaker areas of familiarity but with Mifune in the samurai flick it's one that I'll seek out.

    1. Mask of the Phantasm is worth tracking down, even with a low tolerance for animation. There's a reason that Mark Hamill is widely considered among the best Jokers in the business, on par with Heath Ledger. It's a good story, and good insight into the Batman/Bruce Wayne dichotomy.

      Samurai Rebellion will very much feel like familiar territory in all the right ways. I can't imagine that you won't enjoy it.

  2. Samurai Rebellion is an awesome films as I've seen a few films by Kobayashi so far including The Human Condition. I do like The Book of Life as I thought it was a good film though I think Coco was a better film as that's become a favorite of my nephew's so far.

    I've seen bits of Emma and yes, I don't like Mrs. Goop very much as well though I'm not knocking her worth as an actress as she has her moments including her work in the MCU!!!!!

    1. It's one of those weird little infuriating things when it comes to The Book of Life. 2014 was a good year in animation, but it's the same year that, rather than offering nominations for The Book of Life and The LEGO Movie, we got a nomination for The Boxtrolls. I just find it frustrating.

      That said, Coco was clearly the class of its year, but it does feel like it owes a nod to the one that walked some of the same ground first.

      Gwynny is fine in Emma, but it's not one I'd find worth seeing a second time.

  3. I haven't seen Mask of the Phantasm in ages but I remember really liking it. Now that it's on HBO Max I'll probably watch it again.

    1. My guess is that you'll like it this time, too.