Saturday, February 3, 2024

What I've Caught Up With, January 2024 Part 1

Last year was filled with a lot of personal drama, which meant fewer movies watched. Some of that is going away, and I rededicated myself to getting some movies watched, even if I didn't put up a lot of posts. And I did, in fact watch slightly more than a movie per day in January, enough that I have to split this post in two. That means there will be another chunk of movies tomorrow. I also managed to get through all but the last seasons of The Blacklist and 30 Rock, watched the second season of What If...? and also the new Castlevania series.

What I’ve Caught Up With, January, 2024 Part 1:
Film: Extraction (2020)

Without really trying, I’ve seen a substantial number of Chris Hemsworth movies. Minus the MCU films, though, Extraction is more or less the sort of film that I expect him to be in. This is purely an action movie, but also the sort of action movie that has a message to it. Burned out mercenary Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) takes the job of retrieving the kidnapped son of an imprisoned Bengali drug lord. It’s the sort of dark action film that has become much more the norm, and as such, it’s pretty standard fare. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t good; it’s just not that unexpected.

Film: I Walk the Line (1970)

One of the issues I frequently have with films is older men having affairs or romances with much younger women. I Walk the Line, which features a Johnny Cash soundtrack, puts a country sheriff played by Gregory Peck who has an affair with the daughter of a moonshiner, played by Tuesday Weld. In the film, Peck’s sheriff is clearly middle-aged while Weld’s character is no older than her very early twenties. In reality, Peck was literally twice her age. The story is a good one, but make Weld’s character 30 and give Peck’s role to someone like Donald Sutherland or Warren Beatty and you’ve got the same story without a really unpleasant relationship.

Film: Branded to Kill (Koroshi no Rakunin) (1967)

If you told me that Branded to Kill had a huge influence on the John Wick series and movies like Ghost Dog, I wouldn’t disagree with you. This is an absurdist bit of assassination plot that exists in a world where mob killers have known rankings. Our main character is the third-rated assassin, who botches a job and becomes a target for the #1 killer. I have a sense that this wanted to ride the coattails of Tokyo Drifter, and managed to do so without a lot of what made that film so cool to watch. Yes, I’m in the minority on this one, but I expected a lot more and a lot better than people telling each other that they are going to kill each other and not doing it and a guy with a sexual fetish for cooking rice. No, I’m not kidding about that.

Film: Strawberry Mansion (2021)

In a world where advertisers have figured out how to infiltrate our dreams and the government allows this because they can tax people’s subconscious thoughts, a simple tax man (co-author and director Kentucker Audley) is called on to assess the taxes on an eccentric artist (Penny Fuller in the real world and Grace Glowicki in the dream world). A mad combination of Get Out, Stranger than Fiction, and Moonrise Kingdom, Strawberry Mansion is Wes Anderson on acid, and I mean that in only the most positive way that I can. This is a glorious and wonderful fever dream of magical realism and anti-capitalism. How this didn’t become a massive underground hit, I’ll never know.

Film: A Canterbury Tale (1944)

Three travelers during World War II end up in a small town outside of Canterbury. These are British Sergeant Peter Gibbs (Dennis Price), American Sergeant Bob Johnson (John Sweet), and farm girl Alison Smith (Sheila Sim). Alison is attacked on their way to the local hotel by a man known as “The Glue Man,” who dumps glue in women’s hair. Bob decides to hang around for the weekend to help solve the mystery that Alison has determined she will solve. It’s a bit of a lark for a middle-of-the-war film was certainly intended as a morale booster for the home front. The most interesting part is the presence of John Sweet, an actual US Army Sergeant stationed in the UK during the War. This was essentially his only role, and he donated his entire salary (about $35,000 today) to the NAACP before returning to a non-Hollywood life.

Film: See How They Run (2022)

The key to making a good whodunnit is to have it be unique in some way. See How They Run, attempting to capitalize on the current run on the genre, goes for a mystery that takes place on the set of an Agatha Christie-based stage play. It’s a fun idea to say the least, but it’s the idea that is honestly better than everything else in the film outside of the top-of-the-line cast. Fans of the genre will very much enjoy everything that happens here, but in truth, it’s not much better than the average in the genre. I’m happy to watch Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell do whatever they want, but I want it to be better than average.

Film: 5 Steps to Danger (1956)

An oddball film that is half film noir and half Cold War spy thriller, 5 Steps to Danger has a touch of propaganda about it. A former German citizen (Ruth Roman) tries to smuggle rocket data out of East Germany to an ex-Nazi scientist working in America while being pursued by Russian agents, including a doctor played by Werner Klemperer. She is aided in this by a man trying to get home to Texas (Sterling Hayden). There’s a weird sense of not quite approval of the Nazis who now work for us, but at least not disapproval of them. Probably better for its time, but it does feature solid work by both Roman and especially Hayden, who has good tough guy cred.


  1. Out of this bunch the one I liked the most was Five Steps to Danger. A good deal of that is because of Ruth Roman. Her intensity as the plot unfolds keeps the viewer engaged throughout the various twists of the story, it's one of her best performances. She’s one of my favorites and I think someone who deserves a rediscovery. I am not that big a fan of Hayden, but he works well here.

    It has been years since I saw I Walk the Line but thought it was okay with good performances by both the leads. As I recall they did address the age disparity between Gregory and Tuesday and it was something he was conflicted about, but I may be misremembering.

    I liked but did not love either A Canterbury Tale or See How They Run. I was less disappointed in the second since I went into it with no foreknowledge. With Canterbury Tale I’d heard about it for years before I caught up with it and most of the time very effusively. It had its charms and a gentle spirit, but I’ve never had any desire to return to it.

    Branded to Kill has been on my to see list for years but it sounds like something that can remain towards the bottom of the list without me missing too much!

    1. Regarding the ones you haven't seen, you can safely avoid Extraction. I'd be interested to hear what you had to say about Strawberry Mansion.

      5 Steps to Danger is a very odd film in a lot of ways, but it was interesting to see.

      I'm with you on A Canterbury Tale. It wasn't at all what I expected, and the stakes are so negligible that it feels like a nothing in a lot of ways. See How They Run was a complete disappointment to me.

      It's worth saying that I am hugely in the minority on Branded to Kill. Don't let my opinion dissuade you, but given the choice, I would pick Tokyo Drifter 100 times out of 100.

  2. Branded to Kill and A Canterbury Tale are films I like a lot. Extraction I might see eventually while my only interest in See How They Run is Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell.

    1. That's why I watched See How They Run, and it was a real disappointment.