Cleo from 5 to 7

I like films. I like them a lot. I like buying them in all their physical, optical, limited edition box set glory. I like them a lot. I like subscribing to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky Cinema, Disney+, VRV, Hulu and The Criterion Channel for their wealth of content. I like them a lot. I like trawling the dregs of the Vestron Channel, Tubi TV, Crackle and the zetabytes of hidden gems and film dross tucked away on the most obscure of Roku channels. I like them a lot.

Yes. I like films. I like them a lot.

The idea of attempting to watch a different film every day for the month of January 2020 was more or less done on a whim. Personally I prefer to watch a film over a television series. I lead a busy life. I don’t have time to invest myself wholly in to a long-winded television series or mini drama (although I have started watching Picard so that’s a bit of a fib!). A film can take a story from start to finish in about an hour and a half. Job done. No multi-season contracts, no cliffhangers (The Italian Job aside), no nonsense.

Towards the end of December I had a little more time to watch a film or two over the festive period. It more or less snowballed from there when I made the decision to challenge myself to see if I could watch a film a day, every day, for the month of January 2020. And I succeeded!

Small disclaimer, I was travelling for 2 days during January 2020 and unable to watch anything. To make up for it I watched two extra films over the following days to cover the two days I missed. A slight bending of the rules but I feel I recouped my two day loss, besides, I ended up watching 32 films over 31 days anyway so I’m ahead!

The experiment proved to be a bit of an eye opener. I found on many days, if I was working late, or a family issue arose, or something else would come along that was naturally a higher priority than watching a film, I’d have to think about when and where to fit a film viewing in and be careful with run times. Nothing too long if I had to squeeze in something late at night, or something even shorter but still qualifying as a film if time was really short.

In essence, to pull this off took a bit of planning. So what did I watch?

You can find a full list of reviews and more over at my Letterboxd page. But for the click-hesitant among you, here is the list of 32 films I watched, ranked in order from 1 (best) to 32 (worst):

  1. Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) ★★★★★
  2. Persona (1966) ★★★★
  3. Rollercoaster (1977) ★★★★½
  4. Dead Tired (1994) ★★★★
  5. The Garden of Words (2013) ★★★★
  6. Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread (1974) ★★★★
  7. Ponoc Short Films Theatre, Volume 1 – Modest Heroes (2018) ★★★★
  8. Death Race 2000 (1975) ★★★★
  9. Sister Street Fighter (1974) ★★★★
  10. Godzilla (1954) ★★★½
  11. Take Aim at the Police Van (1960) ★★★½
  12. The Cynic, the Rat & the Fist (1977) ★★★½
  13. Flavors of Youth (2018) ★★★½
  14. The Lighthouse (2019) ★★★½
  15. Perfect Blue (1997) ★★★½
  16. Eliminators (1986) ★★★½
  17. Escape from the Bronx (1983) ★★★½
  18. The Big Bus (1976) ★★★½
  19. A Dog’s Life (1918) ★★★½
  20. Karate Warrior (1987) ★★★½
  21. Delta Force Commando (1988) ★★★½
  22. Mannequin (1987) ★★★
  23. The Return of Sister Street Fighter (1975) ★★★
  24. Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist (1976) ★★★
  25. Otaku No Video (1991) ★★★
  26. Paganini Horror (1989) ★★½
  27. Running for Good (2018) ★★½
  28. Slash (1984) ★★½
  29. Exterminator 2 (1984) ★★½
  30. Demon Seed (1977) ★★
  31. Anchors Up (2017) ★½
  32. The Executioner Part II (1984) ★

Quite a mixed bag eh? That’s what happens when you pick a random film every day and commit to watch it! Looking back over the past 31 days I can see quite a variation in age and genre. From 1918 to 2019, over 100 years of film in just 31 days. Quite remarkable I think.

Laserdiscs and DVD's
January purchases. Mannequin (1987) and Rollercoaster (1977) both in my 31 day challenge.

31 days presented me with a few firsts too. Namely work by directors and actors whose filmographies I’d been meaning to delve in to for the very first time. They included work by Charlie Chaplin, Ingmar Bergman and Agnès Varda. 31 days also brought up a range of quality from each extreme of the critic ratings spectrum. From brilliant, ingenious masterpieces to complete and utter bunk I wish to never lay eyes on again.

The biggest surprise for me was taking a chance on Cleo from 5 to 7. What I thought may be some moody, arty farty black and white nonsense turned out to be one of the finest pieces of film making I think I’ve ever seen. A simply astonishing piece of work. Here’s an excerpt from my review of Cleo from 5 to 7 taken from my Letterboxd page.

Towards the end of the film events take a bit of a turn and I found myself heavily invested in the character of Cléo and what she must have been feeling for the past 90 minutes.

This film is all of the above and so much more. The attention to detail goes down to microscopic layers, even down to details such as all of the clocks in Paris that appear in the film representing the genuine real time elapsing over the running time of the film (which was shot on midsummer day 1961 for the most daylight).

And it really is all that and more. I was delighted to have been able to watch something so wonderful (about a subject so bleak). I gave myself a small pat on the back for selecting it for my film every day challenge!

The Big Bus 1976
The Big Bus (1976) An overlooked disaster movie parody.

One of the highlights of the past 31 days was The Big Bus, a disaster movie parody starring Stockard Channing and Larry Hagman. You can tell that the guys behind The Naked Gun and Airplane lifted a lot of inspiration from this film. Sadly it seems to have gone somewhat overlooked today. Take a moment to check it out if you can.

A more taut and provocative film that took me completely by surprise was the wonderful Persona by the much revered Ingmar Bergman who, like Agnès Varda, is another director who’s work I dipped in to for the first time over the course of the 31 day challenge.

Persona was a film that I couldn’t quite get my head around at first. But as the film moved on I felt it was a story open entirely to interpretation. Something so open, yet so urgent and schizophrenic that I couldn’t quite take it all in. It’s a stunning piece and, per my immediate post-film review, I stand by what I said in that I enjoyed the film, I’m just unsure if I fully understood it. I’ll be delving in to more of Bergman’s filmography in the near future for sure.

Dead Tired Grosse Fatigue
Dead Tired (1994) is a wonderful film starring Carole Bouquet. Tough to find a copy though.

Moving away from Sweden and back to France and this time a blind Laserdisc buy provided me with yet another whopper film that totally blew my mind. From Michel Blanc, the incredible Dead Tired or Grosse Fatigue to give it it’s original title.

I spent a few days in late December 2019 and early January snapping up some bargain basement Laserdiscs, about 20 in total perhaps (I lost count). Mostly blind buys but with the fact that they are either out of print on DVD (or better) or they simply don’t have a better release than Laserdisc. Dead Tired is such a film that commands a high price on a now out of print DVD. It is streaming on the France Canal+ service in HD (link requires France VPN) but is not subtitled. It is also a film I bought on a complete and utter whim. (Update: It is finally coming to Blu Rayfinally coming to Blu Ray in February 2020!)

What a smart move!

I won’t spoil it for you so much as to simply say, if you’ve not seen Dead Tired before then make sure you go out of your way to track it down. You won’t be disappointed!

The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse (2019) was very good but the hype train killed it.

Of minor disappointment to me was a film I rounded the month off with. A viewing of the much-hyped The Lighthouse on January 31st. Yet another black and white film, one of many that I watched over the course of the month.

It’s not that there was anything really wrong with the film. I enjoyed it. I just think the media hype dampened my enthusiasm. For all it’s exquisite camerawork, fabulous use of 4:3 to give the impression of claustrophobia and world class acting, especially from Willem Dafoe, I felt it just lacked…something. There are other tales of woe, hardship and madness out there that are equally as strange but do it better. It’s an experience fresh in my mind while writing this so my opinion may change over the coming days but I doubt I’ll revisit the film again any time soon if at all.

The Executioner Part 2
The Executioner Part 2 (1984). So bad Part 1 doesn’t even exist.

With that said, nothing could prepare me for the utter dross of The Executioner Part 2. A film so bad the producers forgot to tell anyone Part 1 doesn’t even exist!

I wasted 85 minutes of my life with this utter garbage. It would be criminal of me to recommend it to you. Without a doubt one of the worst films I’ve ever seen in my life. By some margin. Thank God for Cleo from 5 to 7

The remainder of the month was filled in with a mix of wonderful anime, obscure martial arts, 80’s classics, a French Riviera Tourist Office documentary and a stack of sub-par action schlock. I even managed to squeeze in all four Sister Street Fighter films (courtesy of the Arrow Video blu discs).

The questions begs then, what to do for February 2020? I don’t think I’ll be watching a film a day, it was a tough challenge to squeeze in to every single day of the month, or indeed three films in one day when I had to make up for the two days I’d missed due to travel. I think for February maybe I’ll aim to watch, say, 10 anime films. Or 10 comedies. Something along those lines, spread out over the course of the month and see how that goes and then pick something else for March or until I get bored!

Whatever happens, I’m pretty pleased to have stuck with it and watched 32 entirely different feature films over 31 days. It’s broadened my tastes, introduced me to new things…and made me wish I’d not seen other things! I hope perhaps this has inspired you to go ahead and challenge yourself to watch a random film. Don’t judge before you’ve given a film a chance, unless it’s The Executioner Part 2!

Happy viewing.

NOTE: Promo film Along The Coast (Agnes Varda) is not included in the ranking list.