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A Month at the Movies... March 2020



The start of another new month only means one thing: another article focused on what films I watched the previous month. I’ll be covering everything from Sonic the Hedgehog to Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light in this piece, but due to the global pandemic of COVID-19 resulting in the shutdown of cinemas in the United Kingdom, there won't be a lot of new releases on this list. Instead; older releases feature heavily as I turn to catch up on classics that I’ve missed out on, films from directors who I love who I haven’t seen yet and award-winning favourites from years gone by. Having recently spent some time tweaking my list of 700 favourite films that I’ve seen thus so far to date, you can find it in full at the link here if you are looking for more films to watch, and due to a high volume of quality content that I watched in March, many films here make it onto the list as new additions, or are old favourites that I've opted to give a second - or third - viewing. Now without further ado, let's get on with the show, and remember to let me know what films you watched in the comments section below.

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020; Jeff Fowler)
I didn’t get the praise for this one, it’s just fine, it’s not good or bad but there are parts where it gets very bad – it feels like a soulless corporate entity of a film with awkward product placement after awkward product placement – (the Olive Garden gift certificate earned audible groans from my audience) – and the whole thing is just mediocre. Kids will enjoy it - and those who had grown up with the character will like it and understandably, as I don't fit either category - Sonic the Hedgehog felt like a misfire. For all its flaws - if you fit into those two categories - or both of them - then bump this up a couple of ratings. It's a movie that very much knows its target audience, helped by the fact that every actor - especially Jim Carrey - know exactly what sort of film they're in and run with it right the way through to the end. At least it never pretends to be anything else. D

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019; Celine Sciamma)
Celine Sciamma can do no wrong – Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an instant classic of a film that more than lives up to the billing, it’s a masterpiece from start to finish, Sciamma makes every frame feel like a painting, captivating audiences with impeccable performances from Noémie Merlant & Adèle Haenel. The rare flawless film that can be watched over and over again, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is just unforgettable and I can’t praise this film enough, seriously, go and watch it – it holds up just as well on a second viewing. A+

Dark Waters (2019; Todd Haynes)
Haynes’ unnerving Safe was one of my favourites first watches of last month and he builds on the paranoia in Dark Waters, a never-ending momentum of suspense and dread that gets under your skin on a near constant basis. Haynes makes a film that we should all be aware of – featuring one of Mark Ruffalo’s best performances yet, backed by strong supporting turns from the likes of Victor Garber, Anne Hathaway, Bill Camp, Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman. B+

Jojo Rabbit (2019; Taika Waititi)
A third viewing at the cinema for me – I like Jojo Rabbit a lot, despite some issues, and admittedly it’s probably Waititi’s weakest movie so far, but that doesn’t stop it from being a really impressive film in its own right and one of the best films of 2019 all the same. The performances are impressive, even if giving Scarlett Johansson another Oscar nomination seemed a tad overkill, as undoubtedly, she’s good here, if out-acted by Thomasin McKenzie. Despite its flaws that are mainly found in a rough middle act, it’s just a heartfelt, optimistic film with a message that simply asks us to be kind to one another. It deserves to be seen – and the fact that I’m still giving it a B+ shows just how good Waititi’s work has been so far; What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople are modern classics. B+

Porco Rosso (1992; Hayao Miyazaki)
A great, plotless masterpiece that’s one of Miyazaki’s coolest films. Porco Rosso is fantastic – echoing Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, in a constant fusion of magical realism that never feels too outlandish, you’ll believe that pigs can fly planes. Its artwork from start to finish is spectacular and Porco Rosso captures an incredible sense of wonder and imagination whilst still managing to combine a grounded simplicity but unafraid of reaching for an epic narrative. This is a movie that deserves to be considered up there with the likes of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke and maybe even surpasses them both. Another gem from Studio Ghibli. A+

A Family Submerged (2018; María Alché)
María Alché’s debut is overstuffed with characters and lacks a clear vision, feeling like it’s too ambitious and overstated given its subject matter. Mercedes Moran’s performance as a woman finding herself in an increasingly stranger situation in the wake of a family tragedy is compelling and Hélène Louvart’s cinematography is hypnotic, but this movie kind of misses the mark and feels like it’s just there, rather than one way or the other, not leaving much of a positive or negative impression. C-

Ida (2013; Paweł Pawlikowski)
Paweł Pawlikowski is a critically acclaimed director whose work I’m completely new to but was blown away by Ida. It’s all about the visuals here, shot entirely in black and white, set in the 1960s and exploring a woman’s attempt to find herself only to lose herself again when she learns a dark truth about her family past. It’s a reflective historical drama that looks jaw-droppingly beautiful from the first shot to the last, opting for a quiet take with a core understated performance by an instantly memorable Agata Kulesza, it’s easy to see why this film won best foreign language feature at the Oscars, a truly remarkable accomplishment. A

Tomboy (2011; Céline Sciamma)
Tomboy is a reminder that Céline Sciamma didn’t just come out of nowhere with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, she’s always been *this good*, and this coming of age film keeps things short at around 85 minutes in favour of a reflective, sombre and brilliantly understated look at gender and identity. Laure, played by the brilliantly talented Zoé Héran, decides to pose as a boy named Mickaël when she’s mistaken as one by a group of almost exclusively male friends – apart from one girl, Lisa, who Mickaël develops an attraction to. Heartfelt and honest and not without its fair share of teenage awkwardness, Tomboy is essential viewing and holds up even better on a second viewing upon a re-release at the BFI Southbank Cinema in London. A+

Girlhood (2014; Céline Sciamma)
A rewatch of Girlhood directly following Tomboy cemented Céline Sciamma’s status as one of the finest directors of the 2010s. The film itself is an, audacious, compelling coming of age tale that’s one of cinema’s best - entrancing from start to finish and wholly heartbreaking. The cinematography, direction and acting all come together marvellously to give us a real rollercoaster ride that explores class and gender, showcasing the ugly side of Paris that many tourists often don't see, with the film - a world away from the glitz and glamour that it hints at, featuring what is arguably the best usage of a Rihanna song in a film, quite simply ever, for Diamonds, one of her best bops (For great Rihanna in movies, also check out Andrea Arnold's American Honey where Shia LaBeouf dances to We Found Love in a grocery store). Rare have these lyrics felt more appropriate and at the same time, at odds with their placing in the context of the film. A+

Son of Saul (2015; László Nemes)
Son of Saul feels like a descent into hell, a rollercoaster whirlwind of chaos and terror as László Nemes gives us an unnerving and claustrophobic look into the daily horrors that victims experienced in a concentration camp during the Second World War. Brilliantly shot with an expert usage of sound-mixing, it’s hard to believe that a film this accomplished is a debut. Harrowing and hard to watch, this will likely be a film I’ll never revisit but it absolutely needs to be seen - and wholly deserved its best foreign language Oscar win. A

Détective (1985; Jean-Luc Godard)
Jean-Luc Godard is a masterful filmmaker in the 1960s – you only need to look at movies like Breathless, Band of Outsiders and Pierrot Le Fou among other examples, but when you look outside of the 60s his filmography kind of falls apart. Taking place in a hotel where a bunch of characters are involved in various goings on ranging from being caught up in massive debt to murder investigations, Détective can often feel like a film within a film, layers upon layers to decipher. It’s ambitious yes, but ambition doesn’t always mean that it’ll be good, and unfortunately Détective is an example of Godard displaying some of his worst tendencies, feeling far too self-indulgent to work. D+

Mother (2009; Bong Joon-Ho)
I can’t stop watching Bong Joon-Ho movies, and I only have one left now (his first film, Barking Dogs Never Bite) and that makes me sad, because they’re all so damn good. Mother is no exception – a remarkably unconventional crime drama that eschews the predictable approach, even poking fun at crime TV shows from the start. Not afraid to go into dark places as it explores a mother’s unconditional love for her son and the consequences that come with it, including what lengths she will go to save her son from being wrongly convicted when he’s failed by the system, Mother, already excellent, is only enhanced by the memorable lead performance by Kim Hye-ja and the stunning cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo. A

Winter Light (1963; Ingmar Bergman)
Ingmar Bergman’s filmography is a never-ending case study of masterwork after masterwork and each new film I watch is a rediscovered treasure. Winter Light is no different, highly influential – look at Paul Schrader’s First Reformed as a recent and clear example of films influenced by this movie, and it’s easy to see why it has the rep that it possesses. Winter Light is deeply moving, focusing on the changing nature of characters’ relationships between a Pastor and his subjects over the course of an afternoon. Performances from a bunch of Bergman regulars are excellent as per normal: Gunnar Björnstrand, Ingrid Thulin and Max Von Sydow deliver no less than their best, and what makes Winter Light essential largely lies in its effectively powerful study of a crisis of faith structure that paints a depiction of humanity at both its best and worst. A

Monos (2019; Alejandro Landes)
A third viewing cements this film as one of my favourites of 2019 and of the 2010s so far – Monos is one of the most visually striking films I’ve seen in a long time. Every shot is a delight - Jasper Wolf delivers his A-Game, and Mica Levi’s haunting, hypnotic score should have won best score at the Oscars this year. Deserving of as much love as Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Monos mashes up Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now to deliver one of the best and most haunting war films that I’ve seen in an age. Don't let this one pass you by - it's a stressful experience from the first shot to the last. A+

Onward (2020; Dan Scanlon)
The last film that I saw at the cinema before they were closed in the UK, Onward is a good film that is unfortunately a victim of far too high expectations. It's not quite up to high standard that Pixar normally make but despite this, it's a solid, fun and optimistic fantasy that explores sibling dynamics set against a fantasy backdrop where magical creatures have forgotten their past in favour of consumerism and capitalism. The voice acting is impressive as always from a Pixar film that is able to rope in the highest calibre of big names, among them rising star Tom Holland, who helps make his character grounded, flawed and relatable. If you missed its theatrical rollout, you can rest easy as Onward is bound for Disney+ later this month. C+

Bait (2019; Mark Jenkin)
Bait is a film that explores the class divide in a rural community to perfection, looking at the impact that tourism from London has on a local fishing village. Shot in black and white, Mark Jenkins blends the tough, rigged exterior of Bait with a sense of otherworldiness about it akin to the works of Robert Eggers and David Lynch. Refusing to make an all too-common mistake of turning the antagonists into stereotypical cartoonish villains, Bait keeps a sense of realism about this film that it needed in order to work; they have been fed as much lies as the protagonists, victims of endless deceit. Inventive, wholly original and passionately brilliant filmaking at its finest - Jenkins is here to stay, and Bait is without question not just my favourite film of this month, but one of my favourite films of last year - and the decade itself. You owe it to yourself to watch this. A+

The Staggering Girl (2019; Luca Guadagino)
Luca Guadagino is one of the most talented filmmakers currently working – Suspiria and Call Me by Your Name are favourites of mine, so I was super keen to check out his short film when it aired on Mubi. But unfortunately – The Staggering Girl is a let-down, feeling much longer than its thirty-minute runtime and just felt like a chore to watch no matter how pretty it looked. C-

Night of the Comet (1984; Thom Eberhardt)
Pure 80s cheese at its finest, Night of the Comet is a post-apocalyptic zombie film where a comet passing over Earth saw everyone who looked at it turn to dust. The survivors, among them two sisters, have to navigate this new world and face a mysterious new enemy called the “Think Tank.” Low budget but nonetheless incredibly impressive from start to finish, this film has plenty of entertainment value and still holds up. B+

George Washington (2000; David Gordon Green)
This is indie-filmmaking at its finest, a Terrence Malickian look into a small town that focuses on its youth community and a boy in particular named George who aspires to become President one day, much like Washington. A born superhero in the making. But these kids live empty lives – there’s nothing to do in the small town, and there’s too much time on their hands. It’s only a matter of time before things take a turn for the worst. It’s hard to believe Green has had the career that he’s had since George Washington,going on to direct radically different films like Pineapple Express and the Halloween legacyquel, and harder still to believe that this is a debut film. A

Boyhood (2014; Richard Linklater)
Rewatched this one and can confirm it’s more than just a gimmick, Linklater’s coming of age tale is one for the ages, an emotional 12-year spanning epic that blends comedy with uplifting moments and the more emotional ones in a plotless, realistic and reflective way. It’s life; captured to a T by Ellar Coltrane and company. The soundtrack evolves as the years go by from Blink 182 and Coldplay to The Black Keys and Arcade Fire, as do to the stories – we see Coltrane’s character bonding with his dad over whether or not they’ll make another Star Wars film, and go to midnight screenings of a new Harry Potter movie with his friends. Above all else it’s a film that benefits from its simplicity, not relying on overly convoluted storylines. A-

The Wages of Fear (1953; Henri-Georges Clouzot)
Deep in the South American jungle, supplies of nitro-glycerine are needed at a remote oil field. The oil company pays four men to deliver the supplies in two trucks, and the two sets of drivers must reach their destination over a rocky, rough road where even the slightest jolt can result in death in the blink of an eye. Welcome to one of the tensest movie experiences EVER, where The Wages of Fear builds and builds its set-up over the first half of the film before culminating in a nail-biting climax that is the true definition of edge-of-your-seat tension. Rare has an original film had a remake as good too, with William Friedkin’s Sorcerer equalling if not surpassing The Wages of Fear to become one of my all-time favourites. A+

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989; Hayao Miyazaki)
A wholesome and simply lowkey fantasy escapism was what I needed when I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service and it more than lived up to the billing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen filmmakers get world-building as right as Miyazaki and make it feel as effortless and that continues into Kiki’s Delivery Service, which follows a witch struggling to find a community of her own. Cheerful, imaginative and low-stakes – Kiki’s Delivery Service captures the sense of wonder and joy that its promise suggests. More films should be like this one. B+

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968; Gianfranco Parolini)
This Django knockoff spawned a whole host of sequels and rewarded us as a result with an awesome Arrow Blu-Ray boxset that I took the opportunity of self-isolation to get stuck into and watch. It’s got some creative set-pieces and kills, and whilst Sartana may be no Django he’s an enjoyable enough, ice-cool substitute. Like all spaghetti westerns it has the obligatory casting of Klaus Kinski as the antagonist, and like most of them, it's just a great way to spend two hours of your time. B

The Hard Way (1991; John Badham)
John Badham’s 90s buddy cop film is what happens when the Hollywood of the era took its buddy cop obsession one step too far. It's a film within a film as Back to the Future's Michael J. Fox’s character plays a famous, egotistical action star Nick Lang who nobody can take as a serious actor finds himself in over his head when he wants some on the job experience about life as a police officer, deciding to accompany the reluctant firecracker of a detective John Moss played by James Woods, who is an experienced veteran that doesn't play well with others even without their added celebrity status. Despite the gimmick touches however The Hard Way isn't funny enough to be a parody or serious enough to be a gritty crime drama - it hits every predictable buddy cop beat with the added meta touches that come with Fox playing an actor, and whilst it’s not a classic of the genre it’s a fun time to be had at the movies that arguably could and should have been more. C-

Lady and the Tramp (2019; Charlie Bean)
Disney+ has finally made it over to the UK and the first film that I watched on the service was their Lady and the Tramp remake. Like Aladdin, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast before it, Charlie Bean’s film doesn’t feel like it has a life, heart or soul, it’s just going through the motions of what came before. Yes, there may be a talented cast – but when even Disney+ decides to dump it on their streaming service rather than launch what could have been a cinema release with little difficulty in theatres back in November, you know something’s gone wrong somewhere. Sam Elliott gets some fun one liners, but that’s the closest positive thing I’ll have to say about Lady and the Tramp. Between this and The Call of the Wild, the wait for a good dog movie in 2020 goes on… D-

The Awakening of the Ants (2019; Antonella Sudasassi)
The Awakening of the Ants blends warmth with anger that leads to a unique energy that feels palpable. Yet despite its strengths – and the powerful performance by Daniela Valenciano at the core of Antonella Sudasassi’s ambitious, well-intentioned film, it feels aimless and directionless, its conclusion empty leaving me feeling hollow rather than emotionally invested. C+

Dumbo (2019; Tim Burton)
I could essentially just copy and paste my review of Lady and the Tramp across to Dumbo and change the names of the cast and the film: it’s just more of the same. Tim Burton’s Dumbo tries to be a film about the evil of big corporations but it just feels soulless as it’s seemingly unaware that it’s being made by a big corporation. Everybody is wasted here across the board, Colin Farrell is bland, Eva Green is bland, Danny DeVito is bland – they may be likeable actors normally but they just can't bring their charm to this film to save it, and the film further cements Tim Burton’s decline as a director as a result. Gone are the haydays of Batman, Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice – it just feels like he made this one for the paycheck and doesn’t care anymore. D

Aquarius (2016; Kleber Mendonça Filho)
A contemplative, reflective character study told in an intelligent and thought provoking manner, Kleber Mendonça Filho uses Aquarius as a lense to criticise the Housing economy in Brazil in a powerful, understated way backed up by a strong performance by Sônia Braga who really elevates the source material with a quiet, passionate anger. Aquarius tackles themes of class in its richly contextualised narrative yet never feels overbearing, and is rewarding in its powerful climax. B+

Leave No Trace (2018; Debra Granik)
I revisited my favourite film of 2018 last Friday for the first time and it holds up really well on a rewatch. Debra Granik’s understated masterclass is something that shines a light on a father and daughter who live out on their own in the woods on the fringes of society, surviving without a house – but with a home, which is something what their Government doesn’t understand when they’re reintegrated back into the world. Leave No Trace showcases the sheer talent that both Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster have to offer – they are two of the most underrated actors in Hollywood at the moment (for more awesome performances by them, check out Jojo Rabbit (reviewed above) and Hell or High Water). Debra Granik’s follow-up to Winter’s Bone is just as hard-hitting as that Jennifer Lawrence-starring Oscar nominee, approaching a difficult subject intelligently and delicately. A+

The Wild Goose Lake (2019; Diao Yi’an)
This ambitious, hyper-stylised neo-noir from Diao Yi’an echoes the effortless cool of Jean Pierre-Melville. We follow a gangster on the run sacrificing everything for those around him in a violent, almost poetic thriller that ultimately falls short of its ambitions partly due to its runtime and pace, there could have been half an hour shaved off The Wild Goose Lake and it would have hit home harder. It’s very much a case of style over substance, but what’s there is undeniably cool. This film would make a killer double feature with Long Day’s Journey Into Night; Bi Gan’s genre-breaking masterwork. B

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984; Hayao Miyazaki)
This might just be my new favourite Studio Ghibli film - a majestic opera that feels truly inventive - this is how you do a post-apocalyptic fantasy. It has all of Miyazaki's favourite elements - a love of the air, an affection for nature, strong proactive female protagonists - and they all come together really well in this rich yet simple epic that feels beautifully illustrated, set to a wonderous score by Joe Hisaishi. When stacked against the rest of Miyazaki's filmography this can't help but feel underappreciated, deserving of every bit of the love that it gets. A+

The Silence (1963; Ingmar Bergman)
The concluding chapter to Bergman's Faith trilogy concludes my reviews in March in a grand, powerful and profound way. It has the elements of its predecessors mixed together - drawing the crisis of faith drama from Winter Light and the personal relationship drama from Through A Glass Darkly into something that feels like a huge influence on Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, only Bergman doesn't feel the need to resort to crazy axe wielding maniacs, rivers of blood or ghosts of twin girls. Instead as poetic as it is shocking, The Silence is another masterpiece from the man who cannot make them any other way. A+

Films Watched at the Cinema in March: 7
The Best First Viewing(s) of March: Bait (2019; Mark Jenkin), The Silence (1963; Ingmar Bergman), Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984; Hayao Miyazaki) TIE


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