The Limiting and Emotionally Draining Monthly Review of February 2019

Critique, eh?


#11 Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
#12 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)
#13 First Reformed (2017)
#14 High Flying Bird (2019)
#15 Memories of Murder (2003), aka Salinui chueok
#16 Gods and Monsters (1998)
#17 Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
#18 Leave No Trace (2018)
#19 Hereditary (2018)
#20 Zatoichi and the Fugitives (1968), aka Zatôichi hatashijô
#20a Inception: The Cobol Job (2010)
#21 Fences (2016)
#22 Sherlock Gnomes (2018)
#23 Ocean’s Eight (2018)
#24 Rope (1948)
#25 Roma (2018)
#26 Green Book (2018)
#27 Serenity (2019)
#28 The Predator (2018)
Memories of Murder

Hereditary

Rope

.


  • So, I watched 18 new feature films in February.
  • That’s below the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 21.3, now 21.1), but does beat the average for February (previously 12.4, now 12.8), as well as January’s tally of ten.
  • That puts me at #28 overall as the month ends, which is the lowest I’ve been at the end of February for five years, since February 2014 closed out at just #12. On the other hand, 2015 and 2017 were both only on #29 at this point, so there’s nothing to worry about (where I should be to reach my new official target of 120 new films in a year is, of course, #20).
  • This month’s Blindspot film: Alfred Hitchcock’s wannabe-one-shot real-time thriller, Rope.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: true-life Korean murder mystery Memories of Murder. It reminded me of Fincher’s Zodiac, which is high praise indeed.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Roma, First Reformed, Leave No Trace, and my first 4K Blu-ray (see Rewatchathon).



The 45th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
There were several films this month that earned five-star reviews — not always a prerequisite for being a favourite; and, I have to say, in most cases that was thanks to rounding up (I don’t believe a film has to be wholly flawless to earn full marks on a ratings system that’s so inherently vague!) My pick of the bunch is probably Korean police procedural Memories of Murder. As I said above, it reminded me of Zodiac, one of my all-time favourite films.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Various films disappointed, underwhelmed, or divided me this month, but lowest among them has to be the battiness of Serenity, which also gets bonus negative points for trying to use the same title as the Firefly film.

Most Meme-able Movie of the Month
In my Velvet Buzzsaw review I noted it was ripe for the picking by meme-makers, but I guess because it didn’t go down very well it hasn’t really caught on. Instead, a drama about a troubled priest from the writer of Taxi Driver might not seem like a meme-magnet… but then again, “are you looking at me?” was a meme before memes existed. Anyway, nothing else this month meets this all-purpose line from First Reformed

Well somebody has to do something

Oh, and thanks to the unpopular Oscar results, this gem has taken off too…

Will God forgive us?

Most Self-Consciously Whimsical Title of the Month
I can kind of see what they were going for with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but they took it too far and now it’s a more horrible mouthful than the pie itself.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Oscar buzz and an Oscar win did little to boost the fates of Roma and Green Book here. Instead, the top two spots were taken by reviews of new Netflix releases (an ever-popular post category), with High Flying Bird coming a distant second to Velvet Buzzsaw.



After a strong start last month, my Rewatchathon falls behind pace a little this time, with just two films.

#6 Inception (2010)
#7 Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Of note here is that Inception becomes the first film I’ve watched on 4K UHD Blu-ray. It looked great, and sounded even better. It ‘only’ has a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, though (as opposed to audiophiles’ new infatuation, Dolby Atmos), so I guess the regular Blu-ray sounds just as good; unless it was remixed, because the 4K does make a point of being the “original theatrical mix”. Well, whatever — the 4K disc sounds immense.


I once again have an extensive list of films I was meaning to get round to this month and, well, didn’t.

No trips to the cinema this month, so I haven’t seen How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Alita: Battle Angel, or The Kid Who Would Be King. I was going to rewatch How to Train Your Dragon 1 and 2 in 3D before that cinema trip, too, but didn’t get round to those either. I guess I’ll go through the whole trilogy in 3D when the third one hits disc in a few months’ time.

As for stuff that’s already coming out at home, I bought First Man, Venom, and imported the new Suspiria and the 1929 Der Hund von Baskerville, but didn’t manage to get round to any of them (obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t be mentioned here). I’ve also got BlacKkKlansman and Upgrade waiting as digital rentals. The Predator was another rental that nearly earned a mention here too, but then I watched it last night. I actually tried to watch it earlier in the month, but it turned out it wasn’t in 4K (despite that being what I’d paid for) and was cropped to the wrong aspect ratio (I do not recommend Chili!) In the end I acquired it via *ahem* other means.

I also bought a bunch more 4K UHD Blu-rays this month, thanks to various sales and offers. I gotta say, though, 4K is not solving all the world’s problems (or, at least, being the ultimate final physical media format) like it should. By which I mean: although I’ve now bought The Matrix trilogy on 4K, I’ve still got to keep my Ultimate Matrix Collection DVD set for four whole discs of stuff not in the 4K set. And although I’ve now bought The Dark Knight trilogy on 4K, I’ve still got to keep my Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray set for the bonus disc which has a couple of feature-length extras. And although I’ve now bought the Mission: Impossible 1-5 4K box set, I’ve still got to keep all the individual films’ Blu-rays for their various bonus discs. And although I’ve not bought the X-Men trilogy on 4K yet, I know it’ll be the same story, because that stupidly doesn’t include any special features discs at all (at least The Matrix and Dark Knight sets managed the film-specific ones). The only 4K box set I’ve bought that’s done it right is the Jurassic Park one, and I think that’s probably by accident (because none of those films had additional special features discs in the first place). I guess having to keep old editions isn’t the end of the world (selling second-hand DVDs/Blu-rays nets so little money nowadays that you’re not even close to covering the cost of rebuying), but it’s the principle — and wasted shelf space — that gets on my wick. Not to mention the looming possibility that one day they’ll do a re-release that does it properly and I’ll feel compelled to buy my favourites again

Finally, I’ve currently got my annual one-month subscription to Sky Cinema (via Now TV) to watch the Oscars, and there’s a whole host of films I want to get round to currently available on there, including (but not limited to) recent releases like A Wrinkle in Time, Isle of Dogs, Lady Bird, and Love, Simon.


2019 is Marching on already.

(D’you see what I did there? Do you? Do you? Do you?)

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The Past Month on TV #43

Between trips away and rotten colds, my posting (and viewing) this month has been in rather short supply. That explains both why this TV column is later than normal and why it covers series that the constantly-churning “Netflix new releases” discussion cycle has already moved on from. (Next month: belated commentary on The Umbrella Academy, maybe.)

As well as Netflix shows that came out a while ago, there’s a BBC show that finished a while ago, an Amazon series that isn’t really out yet, and some thoughts on last weekend’s Academy Awards.

The Punisher  Season 2
The Punisher season 2Earlier this month the news everyone had been expecting was finally made official: Netflix was cancelling The Punisher and Jessica Jones, thereby bringing to an end the era of the MCU on the streamer. Altogether it will have produced 13 seasons and 161 hours of television, ending with the release of Jessica Jones season three sometime later this year — which will be a more appropriate time to get into this, I guess. For now, there’s just the second — and, as it turned out, final — season of The Punisher.

Picking up a year after the first season, initially it seems like this will be an all-new tale for the eponymous antihero (Jon Bernthal) when he finds himself protecting an ungrateful teenager, Rachel (Giorgia Whigham), from a group of highly-trained assassins who want to kill her for reasons she and they won’t divulge. There’s plenty of mystery around the girl, the villain hunting her (a religious fundamentalist type who goes by the name Pilgrim (Josh Stewart)), what everyone’s motives are, and what the bigger picture might be. At one point our heroes get arrested by small-town sheriffs and the series gives over a whole episode to an Assault on Precinct 13 homage. It’s all good.

But then stuff left hanging from season one begins to creep in. No surprise, really: that first run did the usual Marvel/Netflix thing of introducing us to a character destined to become a more famous character, then spent the whole season getting there. In this case its Punisher nemesis Jigsaw (also the villain of Punisher: War Zone, FYI), aka Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), Frank Castle’s friend-turned-enemy whose face he lacerated in the season one finale. So, they were due a rematch. Unfortunately, here Russo’s storyline plays out with that other regular fault of Marvel/Netflix series: it… takes… ages… to… get… anywhere… And as we keep cutting away from Frank and his new ward to spend time on Russo, it’s slow pace is even more distracting.

Frank and RachelThe two plots do converge somewhat, naturally, with Frank having to deal with the machinations of Russo/Jigsaw at the same time as Pilgrim is coming after him. That means the series has to juggle the two stories as well, and it does that less than effectively, swinging back and forth between which it wants to focus on. For me, the problem remained the same: the new plot is interesting with a lot of potential, while the season one hangovers feel like little more than unfinished business. The latter become stretched out to fill the season, going round in circles, rather than being dealt with succinctly. Conversely, with that stealing so much space, the Pilgrim and Rachel story doesn’t get the screen time it needs or deserves. It seems like there’s a half decent balance at first, but that ultimately goes awry, and the ins and outs of the new storyline (I keep wanting to call it the “main” story, but that’s only true in a couple of early episodes) aren’t as explored as much as they should be. Considering there’s some interesting potential in there (Frank and Rachel have great chemistry, and the plot shapes up as a kind of political thriller, in a 24-esque way), it’s a shame it goes under utilised. It also comes to a great conclusion, showing it’s the real star element of the season. That said, the ending to the Russo story is good too (and so, combined, they make for an exciting finale), it just shouldn’t‘ve taken up so much time.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call The Punisher’s second season a disappointment — there’s a lot to like here for fans of the character and the series — but its lack of focus is a drawback. On the bright side, it wraps things up enough that this is an okay place to leave it. It’s open-ended for more adventures, of course (the across-the-board cancellations came so late in the day that none of the shows had planned for them), but there aren’t direct “what happens next?” questions like in Luke Cage or Iron Fist. Considering the chances of a revival on a Disney-owned platform seem to be 50/50 at best, at least there’s that.

Russian Doll  Season 1
Russian DollYou spend years wondering if anyone could re-do the premise behind Groundhog Day in a different way (well, maybe you don’t, but the thought has crossed my mind), and then several come along… not exactly at once, but in relatively close succession. So, following Happy Death Day, which saw a college student having to repeatedly relive her birthday which was also the day of her murder, now we have Russian Doll, which casts co-creator Natasha Lyonne as a thirty something New Yorker having to repeatedly relive her birthday which is also the day she dies. Well, she’s not being murdered, at least. Indeed, the series has a few tweaks and additions to the basic premise up its sleeve, but to say too much would spoil it — although the trailer gives away at least one biggie. Of course, as this is a streaming series, it takes three whole episodes before it reaches that major game-changer.

Fortunately, the show has other things to commend it, primarily the characters. Well, one character, and a bunch of quirky funny types. But hey, this is a comedy, so we can let that slide. And as for that one actually fleshed-out character, Lyonne’s heroine, the series really makes itself about her, her attitude to life, and how the situation affects her. It’s all good stuff. Plus, if you’re here for the plot, although it takes a little while to reveal its unique twists on the formula, once they’re out in the open they build up into an intriguing mystery. And, though it starts out looking like just a comedy in the vein of those other films that have used this concept before, it actually evolves into something more psychological, darker and more complex.

Frankly, one of the main reasons I started watching Russian Doll was because I expected it to be just Groundhog Day / Happy Death Day rehashed as a TV series — that’s what it looked like from the trailers, and I was partly expecting to be able to justifiably complain about that if I’d actually watched it. But, at the same time, I do like both those films, and Russian Doll’s trailer promised at least one new twist on the formula, so I was prepared to give it a fair shout to prove itself. In the end, it deserved the latter. Sure, of course the basic premise is similar to those previous films, but it reimagines it with a dark and foul-mouthed wit that’s distinctly its own, plus it takes the concept down some entirely new avenues. I don’t know how they’d do future seasons (it was originally pitched as three seasons, but it sounds like that evolved during production, so maybe they don’t have as clear an idea as they once did), but I’ll be here for them if they come along.

Hanna  Season 1 Episode 1
Hanna the seriesAmazon are adapting Joe Wright’s 2011 film Hanna into a TV series. Apparently that was commissioned back in 2017, which I don’t recall hearing about, and I feel like I would’ve remembered because I loved the film (never did get round to writing a fuller review, though). Anyway, the first I did hear of it was when they made the first episode available for 24 hours as a preview (the whole first season will be released at the end of March).

Unsurprisingly, the story has been extended to fit its new TV format — this first hour only covers the first act of the film. At this pace, it’s very plausible it’ll take the rest of the season to get through the rest of the movie’s plot (and I’m sure they’ve got some tricks up their sleeve to extended it beyond that). But, surprisingly, it doesn’t feel horrendously slow or artificially drawn-out. This isn’t a mile-a-minute action show, but its pacing is no worse than most other streaming series, here with the added excuse that it’s setting the scene. Indeed, that’s arguably the episode’s biggest problem when viewed in isolation: it feels a bit like the real plot will kick off in episode two, and this is all prologue. On the other hand, in that sense it works all the better when released as tease ahead of the main series. Either way, it grabbed my attention enough that I’ll continue with it when the rest is released.

Les Misérables  Episodes 4-6
Les Misérables
The second half of the BBC’s new adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel (gotta be careful to be clear about that, apparently) is all set in the story’s final time period — Cosette is now a young woman, desperate to see the outside world; Marius is now a young man, whose friends seem desperate to die for a revolution; and Javert is still Javert, still desperate to catch Valjean, presumably out of sheer spite and/or pride. All the characters, connected as much by coincidence and chance as by choice or action, come together around the June Rebellion of 1832, and… well, you either know the plot or you don’t want me to spoil it for you. This remains a handsomely mounted production until the last, however, including pulling off the action at the barricades with suitable scale and impact.

That stuff always feels like it should be the climax to me. In a literal sense, it’s the big action set piece, and is the end of the road for several major characters. But no, there’s plenty left after it, for good (the final confrontations between Javert and Valjean) or ill (Thenardier in the sewers; the unearned redemption of Marius’ grandfather). I rewatched the film of the musical when I was exactly halfway through this series, and by comparison most of the movie felt like a long “previously on” montage. The exception is this post-barricade stuff, where the BBC version, conversely, feels drawn-out compared to the economy of the musical’s telling. The final part was almost quarter-of-an-hour longer than the first five, and I couldn’t help but feel a little more streamlining would’ve helped. Still, it’s a relatively minor complaint amidst what has been a typically excellent adaptation by the Beeb.

In the UK, the whole series remains available on iPlayer for the foreseeable future, while in the US it will air on PBS from April 14th.

The 91st Academy Awards
The 91st Academy AwardsThe run-up to this year’s Oscars seemed to be mired in a mix of controversy and disinterest. The former was provoked by a variety of poor decisions by the Academy, including fiascoes around a Best Popular Film award, over who would host (it was Kevin Hart, then it wasn’t, then it was no one), and over the decision to present some awards during the ad breaks (which was scrapped, thankfully). This whole palaver is part of what fed the disinterest, along with a slate of nominees that was regarded to be generally uninspiring. As it turned out, plenty of people still tuned in (US viewing figures were slightly up from last year) and plenty of conversation was sparked. Other people can dig into it in more depth than me (and have, of course, considering the ceremony was days ago), but I will say I was overjoyed for Olivia Colman (definitely the best speech, although a couple of others were quite good too) and Spider-Verse, was quite pleased Black Panther won Best Score (I don’t know if it was actually the best overall, but I really liked it), and its other two victories (costumes and production design) were also welcome, and Spike Lee’s ecstatic win was another top moment. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, obviously, with Best Picture in particular being an underwhelming result; though I’m not as miffed about Bohemian Rhapsody’s multiple wins as some people (even if its awards for sound editing and mixing were more about “most” than “best”).

The big takeaway from the night should probably be that going host-less worked. Queen’s opening performance was great (because Queen), and the non-monologue monologue from Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler was another highlight of the ceremony. Things still ran smoothly, and there were no stupid asides like bringing normal people into the auditorium or whatever — cutting those time wasters was a much better idea than cutting actual awards. Maybe being host-free is the way forward, though I think they’ll need to continue finding ways to handle the monologue section going forward — the show needs some kind of intro, and a gentle ribbing of the nominees is an appropriate way to do it, I think.

Also watched…
  • The British Academy Film Awards 2019 — The BAFTAs also happened. We gave a better Best Film, but further evidence that maybe a host-less ceremony is a good idea: Joanna Lumley is a national treasure, but her opening monologue was excruciating.
  • Great News Season 2 Episodes 8-13 — The series finale of this cancelled-too-soon newsroom sitcom is titled Early Retirement. So, that’s a nice meta gag to console ourselves with, at least.
  • Mark Kermode’s Oscar Winners A Secrets of Cinema Special — Kermode dissects the formula to make an Oscar winner in this special of his excellent series. It’s available on iPlayer for a few weeks yet.

    Things to Catch Up On
    The Umbrella AcademyThis month, I have mostly been missing The Umbrella Academy, as I mentioned at the start. The trailers look good (love a bit of Hazy Shade of Winter), and it seems like critical and audience reaction has been positive, so it’s definitely on my watchlist. I’m also yet to start the new series of Scottish crime drama Shetland, or The Missing’s much-anticipated spin-off Baptiste. I expect I’ll be saving those up for a little while yet.

    Next month… HBO have set the Deadwood revival/finale movie to air this spring, which is, y’know, soon. I watched season one when it first aired, thought it was great, but when season two came around I found myself thoroughly lost and eventually gave up. I imported the US Blu-ray box set years ago (it’s bursting with special features vs. the UK’s completely bare bones release), and it’s been sat on my shelf waiting ever since, like so many non-pressing TV series nowadays. Well, I guess now is its time…

  • The Redefining Monthly Review of January 2019

    Here I go again: the 13th year of 100 Films in a Year!

    Ah, “100” films… Once upon a time that goal was a challenge: in my first six years, although I did surpass it twice, I also only just reached it twice, and twice fell short. But since then things have improved considerably: in the last six years I’ve doubled it twice (and then some, in last year’s case), and twice more ended up closer to 200 than 100. I’ve also been reaching #100 quicker and quicker — it’s less “100 films in a year”, more “100 films in five or six months”.

    That said, I’ve had a particularly good run of it in terms of free time the past couple of years, and I don’t know if that’s going to continue, so I’m loathe to boldly establish a brand-new goal for myself. Maybe next year. For the time being, my official target has technically changed, in a couple of ways. For one thing, the titular “100 films” have only ever included films I’ve not seen before, and consequently I often rewatched very little. Nowadays, I’ve countered that with my Rewatchathon (2019 being its the third year), which adds 50 films to my viewing goal. Secondly, I’ve watched at least ten new films every month since June 2014, and I intend to keep that up — and as there are 12 months in a year (did you know?), that rounds up my aim to 120 new films.

    So I guess my official minimum goal is 170 Films in a Year. Doesn’t have the same catchy ring, does it? Especially as it should technically be 120 Films I Haven’t Seen and 50 I Have in a Year. Eesh.

    Anyway, enough of that — let’s get properly started on 2019. Here are all the films I watched in the first 12th of this 13th year…


    #1 Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018)
    #2 Cool Hand Luke (1967)
    #3 Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2018), aka Gojira: Hoshi o Kuu Mono
    #4 1941 (1979)
    #5 Rambo (2008)
    #6 The Stewardesses 3D (1969)
    #6a Experiments in Love 3D (1977)
    #6b La jetée (1962)
    #7 Glass (2019)
    #8 The Player (1992)
    #9 The Happytime Murders (2018)
    #10 Zatoichi Challenged (1967), aka Zatôichi chikemurikaidô
    Rambo

    The Player

    .


    • So, I only watched ten new feature films in January.
    • That’s bang on my minimum goal, which is a good thing, but it also means January was my lowest month since September 2017, which is less good.
    • On a more positive note: since I started achieving a minimum of ten films per month year-round back in 2015, I’ve had no more than a single only-ten-films month each year (November in 2015, December in 2016, September in 2017, and none in 2018) — so maybe getting it out of the way in January bodes well for the rest of the year?
    • Also, while this may be the joint-lowest month of the past 4½ years, before then I regularly had sub-ten months. Indeed, pre-2014, 56% of months failed to reach double figures at all.
    • I didn’t watch a film on the 5th, one of the remaining dates on which I’ve ‘never’ watched a film. Two months in a row I’ve messed that up! I’ll have to be more attentive at the end of this year and the start of 2020…
    • In fact, I didn’t watch my first film until the 9th, which is the second latest start ever (in 2011 it was the 10th). That made the film in question — Happy New Year, Colin Burstead — feel somewhat ironic, what with it being, y’know, quite well past New Year by that point.
    • This month’s Blindspot film was Robert Altman’s Hollywood satire cum neo-noir thriller, The Player.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film was Cool Hand Luke, which I had little choice about: no sooner had I included it in my 2019 selection because it was streaming on Amazon than I discovered it was to be removed a mere two days later! Just another reminder why relying on streaming services is a bad idea. Physical media 4eva!



    The 44th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    I found surprising depth in the fourth Rambo, and was one of the apparently-few people who didn’t walk away disappointed from Shyamalan’s trilogy-closing Glass, but this month’s winner has to be The Player. Mixing sharp Hollywood satire with a perverse respect for the wonders of Tinseltown, shaped into a neo-noir thriller storyline and delivered via bravura filmmaking, that includes a justifiably-famous opening oner, Robert Altman’s comeback film promised so much that I love in movies, and delivered on it all too.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    I may’ve watched several notoriously bad films this month (Spielberg’s 1941, R-rated puppet flop The Happytime Murders, gimmicky 3D sexploitation The Stewardesses), but I actually enjoyed all of them on some level. No, this choice was easy. Apparently while promoting his latest film Happy New Year, Colin Burstead, director Ben Wheatley talked about it being his first movie where no one dies. Sure, no one in the film dies, but while watching it I became concerned that I might die from boredom.

    Favourite Short Film of the Month
    La jetée may be an innovative and influential arthouse sci-fi classic, but does it have full frontal nudity displayed in genuine 3D? No, no it does not. As I wrote on Letterboxd, “whether you want a little knowingly irreverent comedy, a cornucopia of 3D tricks, or some relatively explicit softcore porn, Experiments in Love has you covered.” It’s way more fun than it should be.

    Most Explosive Orgasm by an Inanimate Object of the Month
    I’m sorry to subject you to such crudeness, my dear, gentle readers, but here’s the thing: The Happytime Murders’ trailers made a fairly big deal of its puppet’s silly-string-spraying climax, but it was already beat by (once again) Experiments in Love. The latter features a huge retro computer, which for some reason speaks with a dodgy Japanese accent, and for even less reason has a grabby protuberance that tries to grope the film’s female characters, and which eventually gets very excited and, well, shall we say shoots off… directly at the camera lens, of course, because this is 3D. Take that, Gaspar Noé.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    I don’t always watch my stats closely, but sometimes something catches my eye. This month, my Christmas TV review soared to an early lead — TV posts are always popular, and this one went up on the 2nd, so it had almost the whole month to rack up hits. By the halfway point, it already looked unassailable. Then Glass came along, and while it didn’t do spectacular short-term numbers, a strong day-by-day count saw it creep up the chart — could it challenge, even surpass Christmas TV? Well, no — those numbers actually tailed off pretty sharpish, leaving the Past Christmas on TV this month’s clear victor. (Glass did come a respectable second though, far outstripping this month’s other TV post.)


    Real life got in the way a bit this month, so it’s been a rather quiet one (this is my first post for 11 days!) Nonetheless, there’s still a chunk of stuff to recap. For starters, January began (as always) with my review of the previous year…

    And then regular business brought this little lot…


    While my main goal only just scraped to its minimum monthly target, my Rewatchathon began by exceeding it by 25%…

    #1 Twelve Monkeys (1995)
    #2 Unbreakable (2000)
    #3 Ghostbusters (1984)
    #4 Split (2016)
    #5 Les Misérables (2012)

    …of course, when your target is “four”, 25% is “one”. Sounds less grand like that, though.

    At this point I’d normally share a thought or two about some or all of the above listed films, but instead I’m going to mention my Letterboxd account. My stats on the site inform me that I ‘review’ films on there about 50% of the time. Those aren’t proper reviews, mind — usually I’m aiming for a ‘witty’ comment, but sometimes it’s a quick initial impression, especially if a film really made me feel something (for good or ill). Sometimes those comments end up getting mixed into the full reviews I later post here; other times they don’t.

    This month, I wrote something about each of my rewatches (hence why I’m mentioning this now), which you can locate quickly as follows: Twelve Monkeys, Unbreakable, Ghostbusters, Split, and Les Misérables.


    Here’s a new regular section for 2019. (Assuming I always have something to say in it. If I don’t, I guess it’ll disappear again.) These are films I’d been specifically meaning to watch (or rewatch) this month, but for whatever reason didn’t get round to — my failures.

    For January, this includes a tonne of stuff — I’m about to name 19 different titles, enough to almost triple the number I actually watched. (If that’s the kind of level I’m operating at, there probably will be something to say here every month!) Those include some much-discussed recent streaming releases (Roma, Bird Box); some Amazon rentals I got on the cheap (First Reformed, Leave No Trace, Mandy); some films I’ve been meaning to see for yonks that recently popped up on streaming services (Gods and Monsters, The Purge: Anarchy); recent Blu-ray purchases (One Cut of the Dead, Waterworld, Crimson Peak); at least one film I recorded off TV (The Eyes of Orson Welles); some new Blu-ray/rental releases that I haven’t actually purchased yet (Dave Made a Maze, The Predator); and anything at all on 4K Blu-ray — I got a player for Christmas, and I’ve set it up and watched a few bits and pieces as tests, but not a whole film. Top contenders for that honour include Escape from New York, Mission: Impossible I, II or Fallout, Blade Runner, and Blade Runner 2049.

    One thing I can say: some of those will definitely be amongst next month’s viewing. I mean, if they’re not, I wasted money on those rentals…


    It’s the shortest month of the year! Better pick up my average weekly viewing, then, or I won’t even make it to ten…

    The Past Month on TV #42

    “Month” is a bit of a stretch, as it’s only 2½ weeks since my Christmas roundup, but let’s go with it and get things back on schedule.

    A Series of Unfortunate Events  Season 3
    A Series of Unfortunate Events season 3The third and final season of Netflix’s adaptation of Daniel Handler’s Lemony Snicket’s 13-volume series of children’s novels arrived on New Year’s Day. “Final” because they have now reached the end of book 13, and therefore the end of the tale. And that means the whole story — running just under 20 hours total, across 25 episodes — is now sat there on Netflix, available for any future viewer to watch as a complete work. We live in an era where there are far too many quality films and TV series and other entertainments vying for our precious time, but even though I’ve already seen it all (obviously), “watching it as a complete work” is something I definitely intend to do someday in the future, because it’s bloody marvellous.

    But, for the time being, back to this final batch of episodes. They begin exactly where the last lot left off — which only makes sense, because that was a cliffhanger. It’s quickly enough resolved, naturally, and we’re off into the series’ final stretch. That’s a funny one, actually: there are seven whole episodes here — an entire run for many UK dramas, for example — but it feels like we’re right at the tail of the, er, tale. So, for example, when we’re introduced to a new pair of major villains, it feels a bit late in the day for that kind of thing — surely there’s not enough time left to explore their importance? Indeed, the series basically doesn’t. It’s part of why the opening two-parter, The Slippery Slope, felt a bit something-or-nothing to me. But perhaps that’s unfair — perhaps I was just itching to reach the impending denouement, with all its long-promised answers — so perhaps they’ll fare better on a rewatch. Things pick up in The Grim Grotto, which is set mostly aboard a pair of submarines, a nice showcase for the series’ always-impressive production design. There are some neat surprises and revelations here, which turn out to be vitally important later on.

    But things really get good in the penultimate tale, the appropriately-named The Penultimate Peril. Well, I say “appropriately” — in some respects this two-parter actually feels like the show’s big finale, with many much-anticipated meetings and events taking place, plus a healthy dose of long-awaited reveals and answers. It’s all wrapped up in a tale that is gorgeously constructed, the screenplay and editing revelling in a temporally-twisted structure that helps underscore some of the series’ biggest and best messages. I thought it was absolutely stunning, especially the first half; a phenomenal finale that brings so much together while also being clever in itself.

    Is Olaf so awful?After that, we come to The End — that’s not emphasis, it’s the title of the actual finale. Every other novel in Snicket’s 13-volume series has been treated to a two-part adaptation, but The End is the longest book of them all, so it gets… one episode. A regular-length one, at that. Well, I’ve never read the books (I will someday…), so I can’t comment on why this should be, or if the programme-makers have done it a disservice, but I’m sure they had their reasons. That said, it’s even more intriguing given that the TV series manages to wrap up almost every on-going plot line and mystery, something the book series is notorious for not doing — you’d think they’d need more screen-time for that, not less.

    As an episode, The End isn’t quite as impressive as The Penultimate Peril. It’s a weird cross between an epilogue and an essential final piece of the puzzle. One thing I think the final three episodes do get right is they explain almost all of the complicated, mysterious backstory in Penultimate Peril, then bring the focus back onto the Baudelaire orphans for the finale. There’s been so much of that backstory to get into that it’s sometimes threatened to overwhelm the main plot; to make the programme all about the kids’ parents and what went on in the past. To get that explaining out of the way, then swing round to “where do the kids go from here?”, is a good move. And having just said how much the series explains and wraps up, it’s actually very open-ended, especially considering it’s explicitly designed to be a definite end. But (spoilers!) it is an end to what was explicitly the story of the series (Olaf’s attempts to get the Baudelaire fortune, plus the mysteries of VFD); it’s just that Violet, Klaus and Sunny’s lives will continue to be adventurous after that story is over. Though it does make one wonder if Handler will ever be tempted to write a sequel series someday…

    That open-ended-ness is just one of many big, potentially challenging ideas the series has presented its younger audience with. In amongst all the quirky whimsy and kids’ picture book aesthetics, the series has ultimately engaged with important and mature themes — about bad people not being purely evil and good people not being purely good; about how ‘good’ and ‘bad’ can be subjective and personal anyway; about not blindly respecting authority, or expecting it to deliver what’s right or fair… This maturity is one (of many, I think) reasons the series also works for adult viewers.

    Bye bye, BaudelairesBack at the start, it took me a couple of episodes to warm up to A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’m worried the same thing will have put other viewers off. That’s a shame. Okay, sure, some people are never going to be on board with its particular style — it’s like something by Wes Anderson or Tim Burton or someone in that respect; stylised and mannered in a way some people just don’t get on with — but I think more people need to give it a fair shot; to stick with it, knowing the early stuff is sometimes about establish a tone and a status quo for later episodes to peel away as a facade. I’m not saying it’s perfect — there are ups and downs along the way — but, for me, I think the series taken as a whole borders on being a masterpiece. I love it, and I’m going to miss it, and that’s just one reason I’ll watch it again. So much for looking away.

    Also watched…
  • Island of Dreams — This was a proper oddity: a one-off comedy set on Sir Richard Branson’s private island, where he hosts guests including J.K. Rowling, Daniel Radcliffe, Daniel Craig, Adele, Greg Wallace, Professor Brian Cox, and Elon Musk — all played by comedians, obviously. It was… kinda funny, I guess? Apparently it’s a pilot, so maybe there’ll be more.
  • Les Misérables Episodes 2-3 — When this series started there was apparently much discussion on social media about how it was “weird without the songs”. Other than Look Down popping into my head when it first cut to the prison ships, that hasn’t bothered me too much. What I have found kinda odd, though, is seeing a familiar story told in such a different way. I don’t know why that’s weird — it’s not as if I haven’t seen a remake before, and I’ve only seen the musical three or four times (in several different versions, too). I think it’s something to do with seeing a story I only know as a musical being told as a straight-up drama, and an expanded one too, with events occurring in slightly different ways, and with whole other characters and subplots and stuff mixed in. It makes it quite hard for me to judge as a drama in its own right, though. Well, I’ll try in next month’s TV roundup, by when it’ll be finished.

    Things to Catch Up On
    The cast of Sex Education are shocked by my opinion, clearly.This month, I have mostly been missing Sex Education, Netflix’s comedy-drama about a sex therapist’s son who begins offering what expertise he’s picked up second-hand to his classmates. It attracted a bit of hype before release and has been much-discussed on social media, but I thought something looked kinda off about it… and then I saw this, which has hit the nail on the head for me. I always hate it when British programmes or films behave like UK secondary school is anything like US high school, and by the sounds of things Sex Ed has gone all-in on that ludicrous fallacy. If I do end up watching it, I feel like that’s just gonna bug the hell out of me.

    Next month… the Punisher returns for (what will presumably be) the penultimate season of the MCU on Netflix.

  • Blindspot 2019

    I already waffled on a lot at the start of my 2019 WDYMYHS list, so if you’ve not read that then do check it out for a full introduction to what this is all about.

    The relevant part, though, is that this is a list of 12 films I should’ve seen but haven’t that I must watch this year — and, because I’m doing both WDYMYHS and Blindspot, that’s 24 films I must watch. Whereas the WDYMYHS selection contains 12 films chosen by consulting lists of great movies to find what the consensus feels I should’ve seen, these Blindspot choices are simply personally selected from my DVD/Blu-ray collection. Nonetheless, I do try to add a bit of variety to the mix, with different countries, genres, and eras represented.

    Anyway, here’s what I picked out this year, in alphabetical order…


    All the President’s Men
    All the President's Men


    The Breakfast Club
    The Breakfast Club


    Les diaboliques
    Les diaboliques


    Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler
    Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler


    Dracula
    Dracula


    The Ipcress File
    The Ipcress File


    The Killer
    The Killer


    The Player
    The Player


    Rififi
    Rififi


    Rope
    Rope


    Scott Pilgrim
    vs. the World
    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


    Starship Troopers
    Starship Troopers

    Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler is actually a two-part film (why so many online sources insist on listing it only as one movie when it seems to have been originally released as two, I don’t know), so you could argue I’ve given myself 25 films to watch for these challenges this year. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Only time will tell…

    What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2019

    A new year, a new challenge… or, rather, an old challenge with new components.

    Yes, for a seventh year I’m setting myself the goal of watching 12 specific films I really should have seen but haven’t.

    And, because I’m a crazy madman, I’m doing it twice — i.e. 24 films.

    I’ve been doing two of these lists since 2017 (separated as “Blindspot”, which you may’ve seen on other blogs, and my own version, “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” (aka WDYMYHS), which is the same thing by a different name), but previously only put ten films on the second list. Well, I got into such a rhythm of watching these films during 2018 that it felt weird in November and December after the WDYMYHS list had run out. So, I thought for 2019 I’d go all-in and do two full lists of 12.

    “Why do you have two lists of 12 rather than one list of 24?”, you may ask. Fortunately for you (or unfortunately, if you don’t care), I’m happy to answer. I started doing WDYMYHS as a 12-film challenge before Blindspot came along, but for my 10th anniversary in 2017 I decided to do ‘both’ — the regular 12-film challenge, plus a ten-film one, marking my blog’s 10th anniversary by selecting one film I really should’ve seen from each of the previous ten years. That went well, so I repeated it in 2018; and that went well too, so I’m making it that little bit trickier this year (9.09% trickier, to be precise).

    The exact difference between the lists is that Blindspot is a ‘free choice’ of 12 films I personally feel I should’ve seen, whereas WDYMYHS is selected by analysing lists of great and/or popular movies to try to determine a consensus view of what I’m a fool to have missed. I vary which lists I consult, and how much value I put in them, year by year (to some extent, anyway). This year, the formula to calculate these picks was based on the three Top 250 lists that are tracked on iCheckMovies — the ones from IMDb, Reddit, and FOK! — plus They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?’s 1,000 Greatest Films. These lists were factored with various weightings to give the films a score. Then I applied a couple of rules: films had to appear on at least two of those lists, including at least one out of IMDb and TSPDT; I had to already have access to them (either on DVD, Blu-ray, or if they’re currently streaming on Netflix/Amazon/etc); and, as usual, no repeat directors. That led to a load of high-scoring films being passed over (I had to go as far down as #32 for my 12th pick).

    After all that, this is what I ended up with, in the order they finally scored (from highest to lowest)…


    Ikiru
    Ikiru


    Untouchable
    Untouchable


    The Gold Rush
    The Gold Rush


    Life is Beautiful
    Life is Beautiful


    All About Eve
    All About Eve


    Sherlock, Jr.
    Sherlock, Jr.


    The Thin Red Line
    The Thin Red Line


    Eyes Wide Shut
    Eyes Wide Shut


    The Red Shoes
    The Red Shoes


    Cool Hand Luke
    Cool Hand Luke


    The Royal Tenenbaums
    The Royal Tenenbaums


    Memories of Murder
    Memories of Murder

    Some noteworthy exclusions…

    • To Kill a Mockingbird actually made the list (in 6th), but it was on my list in 2015. I once had the rule that a film only had to sit out one year before being available for reinclusion, but, I dunno, I like mixing it up. But if I don’t watch it anyway during 2019, I might let it back in for 2020.
    • If I hadn’t ruled out films I don’t own, the “true top 12” (i.e. based on score alone) would’ve included In the Mood for Love, , Cinema Paradiso, Andrei Rublev, Come and See, and A Separation.
    • If I didn’t rule out repeat directors, Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid would’ve been in 8th place.
    • If I’d kept the “must own/have access to it” rule but allowed films that were only on one list, it would’ve included Dangal, Taare Zameen Par, Ordet, Ugetsu Monogatari, and Fanny & Alexander.
    • Finally, if I’d had to own it and have it on multiple lists, but it didn’t have to be on IMDb’s or TSPDT’s, then Scott Pilgrim vs. the World would’ve been the 12th film.

    Of course, just because something got cut out of my WDYMYHS, doesn’t mean I couldn’t choose to include it in my Blindspot picks…

    The Best & Worst of 2018

    Later than planned, here it is: my picks of the best (and worst) films I saw in 2018! Plus, as usual, a list of some major titles I missed, thus explaining why they’re not on my top list (i.e. because I haven’t seen them).

    I’d hoped to have this up by Sunday morning, but life increasingly got in the way, not helped by it being a more mammoth task than usual. You’d think picking a top 26 would be easier than picking a top 10 (there are more slots!), but you end up with the same dilemmas, just further down the scale. And, of course, a longer list means there are more films to sort into order — I mean, how do you decide which is ‘better’ between a dystopian sci-fi parable, an excoriating relationship drama, and a groundbreaking action movie when you love them all? And that’s just one example…

    Anyway, this is what I ended up with. And just a final reminder before we get going: these films are selected from all 261 movies I saw for the first time in 2018, not just new releases.



    The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018

    This year I watched some films so bad that The Snowman hasn’t made the cut. Perhaps The Snowman is worse than some of these films, and certainly everyone involved in it should’ve done better; but it seems something went wrong during its production (15% of the screenplay wasn’t even shot!), so I feel like those involved can’t be wholly to blame. However, the following five films are (to the best of my knowledge) just bad. So, in alphabetical order…

    The Cloverfield Paradox
    The third film in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi anthology series was dumped on Netflix at short notice, presumably in the hope people would watch it before hearing how terrible it was. Its sci-fi concepts are internally inconsistent, while the Cloverfield connections were clearly retrofitted with reshoots. [Full review.]

    Geostorm
    Talking of nonsensical sci-fi, this is even worse — not only is the science stuff implausibly done, it can’t create plausible character logic either. Big dumb popcorn fun shouldn’t be this dumb, because it stops it being fun. [Full review.]

    Lost in Space
    I avoided this movie for two decades because I heard how bad it was, but then caved when the Netflix reboot came along. Sadly, its reputation is fully deserved — it’s bad in every way you’d care to consider. Even Gary Oldman’s no good in it. And, 20 years on, it also looks incredibly dated.

    Phantasm
    This is a cult favourite with some people (known as “Phans”, I believe), but I thought it was awful. None of it makes any sense, from the mythology to the way characters behave, and it’s not very well made, either.


    Skyline
    Another sci-fi movie! I clearly made some poor genre viewing choices in 2018. Anyway, even his is Cloverfield meets Independence Day filtered through the minds of the directorial brothers behind Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, and is every inch as terrible as that sounds.



    The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018

    Rather than end the year with a good ol’ top ten, since 2016 I’ve been doing a “top 10%”. This year’s record-obliterating tally was 261, so it’s my biggest top “ten” ever too, with 26 films. Think that’s too many? Feel free to scroll down and start wherever you like.

    As I said at the start, all the movies I watched for the first time in 2018 are eligible for this ranking, not just new releases. However, I did watch 50 films that made their UK debut in 2018, and nine of them made it into my top 10%, so I’ve noted their ‘2018 rank’ too.

    26 April and the Extraordinary World

    This French steampunk adventure features gorgeous animation to render a creative alternate history. A sharp turn into pulp sci-fi almost lost me, but it’s too wildly imaginative not to enjoy.

    25 Sholay
    Probably the most iconic Bollywood movie of all time, Sholay’s 3½-hour running time has something for everyone: it’s an action adventure comedy romance musical thriller!

    24 The Lives of Others

    This German Cold War tale is tense and thrilling like a spy movie, but emotionally and politically loaded like an art house drama.

    23 Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
    2018 #9 The year’s best fourth-wall-breaking superhero comedy. It’s a kid-friendly cartoon, but there are plenty of jokes aimed at adult superhero fans too.

    22 Das Boot: The Director’s Cut

    A rounded portrait of life and combat beneath the waves, with one of the most effective surround sound mixes I’ve ever heard.

    21 Network
    A newsroom satire so insightful and timelessly pertinent, you could remake it virtually word-for-word set today.

    The blind masseur-cum-swordsman turns babysitter in this atypical but excellent instalment of the long-running series. [Full review.]

    Rocky returns to train his dead friend’s son in this spin-off that honours the series’ legacy to emotive effect. [Full review.]

    The kind of movie that makes me nostalgic for a time I never experienced (and, to be honest, wouldn’t necessarily actually enjoy). [Full review.]

    17 Muppet Treasure Island
    Our felty friends take to the high seas for one of their best movies, packed with swashing buckles and superb musical numbers.

    16 Suspiria

    Dario Argento’s seminal shocker was remade this year, which led me to finally see the original. It’s a masterpiece of uneasy atmosphere, with striking colours and music.

    2018 #8 Hilariously funny, with some of the best line deliveries of the year (or ever), and cleverer than it has any right to be, this is so good it makes up for the bait-and-switch of the cute dog being prominent on the poster but not in the film. [Full review.]

    14 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

    2018 #7 Fantastic performances colour in all the shades of grey for some complicated characters in this dark (but, at times, surprisingly funny) drama.

    Once eyed by Tarantino for a remake, this instalment sees Ichi attempting to atone for all his killing… only to get drawn into protecting a village from a vicious gang boss. [Full review.]

    2018 #6 The Marvel formula, now available in black. But there’s more than that to this film, which plays an Afrofuturist Bond movie. [Full review.]

    11 The Warriors
    A gang must fight their way home across a city out to get them in Walter Hill’s actioner, which is thrilling thanks to an almost-mythological simplicity and directness.

    2018 #5 Netflix attracted a lot of attention by suddenly announcing and releasing this “choose your own adventure” movie at the end of December. Unlike when they pulled that stunt in February (see my worst movies list, above), Bandersnatch merited the hype. It could’ve been a gimmick, but, in the hands of Charlie Brooker and the Black Mirror team, content mirrors form, and we’re treated to a paranoid sci-fi story that couldn’t’ve been told as well any other way. [Full review.]

    2018 #4 Spider-Men other than Peter Parker have been a fixture of comic books for yonks now, but here they make it to the big screen, accompanied by a powerful message about who can be a hero. Realised with startlingly inventive animation, it’s destined to be a genre classic. [Full review.]

    8
    Full Metal Jacket

    Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie is best known for its bootcamp first half, with the abusive drill instructor played by R. Lee Ermey, who brought his experience of having done the job for real. Nonetheless, I was impressed to find the second half (set in Vietnam itself) was equally affecting.

    2018 #3 I’d rather gone off the work of Paul Thomas Anderson in recent years, and a drama about a London fashion house in the ’50s didn’t particularly appeal either… but blow me down with a feather, the combination has produced this work of exquisite beauty. Maybe not “beauty” in the traditional sense, but as a character study of two very particular souls, with more than a touch of Gothic melodrama about its style and story, it’s my kind of beauty. [Full review.]

    2018 #2 This year, the superhero movie went full comic book, with both Spider-Verse and this bringing the storytelling style of a team-up event series to the big screen. In the case of Infinity War, it was the (beginning of a) culmination of ten years’ work that has revolutionised the blockbuster movie business. But even leaving that aside, what Marvel produced here is a film with a scope, scale, and narrative style not quite like any other. [Full review.]

    5
    Heathers

    The darkness that’s barely concealed beneath the pleasant veneer of American high schools is exposed in this pitch-black comedy, which mixes violent teen wish fulfilment with a certain degree of societal satire to boundary-pushing effect. It’s not as transgressively shocking 30 years on as it might’ve been back in the ’80s, but it’s still so very.

    Yes, I only got round to seeing La La Land this year. The Best Picture winner that wasn’t, you can certainly see why everyone thought the tradition-led Academy Awards would pick this as their winner — it is, in part, a love letter to classic Hollywood musicals. But the songs are better than just pastiches, there’s a realism to the storytelling and performances that’s more modern, and the whole film sings with the joy of moviemakers dedicated to producing something beautiful. [Full review.]

    3
    Snowpiercer

    If La La Land is about beauty, Snowpiercer is about human ugliness. Its setup may stretch credulity (following an apocalyptic event, the remnants of humanity all live on one long train that constantly circles the globe), but just go with it and you’re treated to an insightful commentary/allegory about class divides and interdependence, wrapped up in a pulse-pounding action thriller with the relentless forward motion of… well, you know what.

    2
    Before Midnight

    The third film in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy catches up with Celine and Jesse in middle age, after years of togetherness, with two kids (plus his kid from a previous relationship) and a host of problems bubbling under the surface. Midnight is notably different from the lovey-dovey-ness of Sunrise and Sunset, but it’s a powerful examination of the tension in a long-term relationship, and all the more so because we’ve connected with these characters on and off in real-time. The first two leave you feeling warm and fuzzy; this is more like being punched in the gut. And yet, together, they are one of the greatest trilogies ever made. (I really hope they do a fourth one, though.)

    2018 #1 I have the whole history of cinema to choose from, but, once again, a new release tops my top ten. Sometimes, with hindsight, I wonder about my picks for #1; other times, I’m pleased to see I was right many years later, as my top film stands the test of time. I suspect this will be one of the latter, because the lengths to which writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and, especially, star Tom Cruise have gone to show us something we’ve never seen done before, and to entertain us with cleverly conceived and astoundingly executed action sequences, is really above and beyond the call of duty. It’s resulted in one of the best action movies ever made. As the first film I felt compelled to see twice on the big screen for nearly a decade, not to mention that I listened to over six hours of podcast interviews with McQuarrie as he dissected it every which way, there couldn’t really be any other pick for my film of the year. [Full review.]


    As ever, there were lots of films I liked a lot that there simple wasn’t room for (my original long list, which I add to throughout the year, had 93 films on it). If I just listed a bunch more films I liked that would be kinda cheating (why not just do a longer list?), but, nonetheless, there are a few I’d like to highlight for specific reasons.

    While compiling my top 10%, I hit on two kinds of movie that I felt should be eliminated from consideration but that I still really wanted to mention in some way. In other years, any or all of these films might’ve made the “best” list, but it was a tough year and something had to go! Well, that’s exactly what “honourable mentions” are for, right?

    The first are movies that were not traditionally “good”, but I still got a lot of enjoyment out of them; what some people might call “guilty pleasures”, I guess. In particular I’m thinking about Gods of Egypt (my review explains all about that) and the 1975 Zorro, which was an entertainingly chaotic romp. Also Happy Death Day, which I really enjoyed as a tonal throwback to turn-of-the-millennium teen horror movies, and Benji, which is a young kids’ film through and through, but with a loveable doggy star to ‘aww’ over.

    The latter crosses over somewhat into the second category: films that were only fairly good overall, but I bloody loved one element of them — so, Benji in Benji, for example. Also: Winnie the Pooh in Christopher Robin, the Live Aid sequence in Bohemian Rhapsody, and all the action sequences in The Villainess. If I did lists like characters or scenes of the year, they’re the kind of the thing that would be right near the top.

    Now, let’s recap the 12 films that won Favourite Film of the Month at the Arbies, all of which have already been mentioned in this post, one way or another. In chronological order (with links to the relevant monthly update): La La Land, Black Panther, Happy Death Day, Avengers: Infinity War, The Warriors, Sanjuro, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Christopher Robin, Heathers, Suspiria, Creed, and Snowpiercer.

    Finally, I never end this without mentioning all the films that earned 5-star ratings in the year. There were 39 in total during 2018, including 22 that made it into my top 26. Those were Avengers: Infinity War, Before Midnight, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Black Panther, Das Boot: The Director’s Cut, Call Me by Your Name, Creed, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight, Full Metal Jacket, Heathers, La La Land, The Lives of Others, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Network, Phantom Thread, Sholay, Snowpiercer, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Suspiria, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Warriors, and Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage. The remaining 17 were The 400 Blows, Big Fish, Compulsion, The Director and the Jedi, The Elephant Man, The Hunt, Laura, Paper Moon, Princess Mononoke, Ran, Sanjuro, Scarface, The Shape of Water, Strangers on a Train, Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D, They Shall Not Grow Old, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Plus I also gave full marks when I wrote about rewatches of Blade Runner 2049 (in 3D) and Superman: The Movie.


    I watched 39 films from 2018 during 2018, which leaves a considerable number of notable releases that I’ve not yet seen. Therefore, as is my tradition, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films that I’ve not seen which are listed as 2018 on IMDb. That means some of these ‘missed’ films are awards-y movies that aren’t actually out in the UK yet, but that’s the way this goes. (I have included one film that’s listed as 2017, because it only had a handful of festival screenings that year. But there was another that I was going to put here which was actually released in several countries at the end of 2017, so I decided it shouldn’t be allowed. That was, ironically, You Were Never Really Here. Oh how I laughed at the accidental pun. Now you can too, readers.)

    As always, the films in this list have been selected for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety. There are many more I want to see that I could have included, but I always make some attempt to include a spread of styles, genres, successes, and failures.

    Aquaman
    Creed II
    First Man
    Mary Poppins Returns
    Sicario 2: Soldado
    Suspiria
    BlacKkKlansman
    Early Man
    Isle of Dogs
    The Predator
    Skyscraper
    Venom
    Aquaman
    Bad Times at the El Royale
    Bird Box
    BlacKkKlansman
    Bumblebee
    Cold War
    Crazy Rich Asians
    Creed II
    Early Man
    Eighth Grade
    Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
    The Favourite
    First Man
    First Reformed
    The Girl in the Spider’s Web
    Green Book
    The Grinch
    Halloween
    The Happytime Murders
    Hereditary
    Holmes & Watson
    If Beale Street Could Talk
    Isle of Dogs
    Johnny English Strikes Again
    Leave No Trace
    Love, Simon
    Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
    Mandy
    Mary Poppins Returns
    The Meg
    Ocean’s 8
    Pacific Rim: Uprising
    Peter Rabbit
    The Predator
    Ralph Breaks the Internet
    Rampage
    Roma
    Searching
    Sicario 2: Soldado
    A Simple Favour
    Skyscraper
    A Star is Born
    Suspiria
    To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
    Tomb Raider
    Upgrade
    Venom
    Vice
    Widows
    A Wrinkle in Time


    Whew! That’s that over for another year. (Well, aside from the insane number of reviews I still have left to post…)

    2018 Statistics

    For today’s portion of my review of 2018, it’s one of my personal highlights every year: the statistics!

    For any newcomers among you, this is where I take the 261 films I watched for the first time in 2018 and analyse them in all kinds of different ways, and compare them to previous years too. It’s exciting, I promise. (Well, it is to me.)

    As a bit of a P.S. before we begin (yes, I know that doesn’t make sense), I’m now a “pro” member of Letterboxd, which means I get stats there too. They’re somewhat different to these because they also include my rewatches, a few TV bits and bobs, and things like that. They do include categories I’ve never bothered to tabulate though, like repeated actors and various crew positions and so on, so there’s that. Anyway, if you’re interested, you can check those out here.

    And now, without any further ado…

    As I previously mentioned, I watched 261 new feature films in 2018. That blows away all previous years, becoming my highest final total by 30.5% over the previous best, 2015’s 200.

    Included in that is the one extended or altered cut of a feature I’d seen before that I watched this year. The film in question was Terminator 2, which I counted as part of the main list because it was (a) in 3D, and (b) the original theatrical cut, which I’d never seen before.

    Those 261 films aren’t the whole story, however, as in 2018 I continued my Rewatchathon, in which I aimed to rewatch 50 films I’d seen before. I hit that goal exactly, meaning my total feature film viewing for last year was 311 films. That’s a 36.4% increase on the previous best, 2017’s 228.

    I also watched eight short films in 2018, which is a small number but is also the most shorts I’ve watched in a single year since 2007. They won’t be included in the following statistics… except for the one that says they are.

    The total running time of those 261 films was 461 hours and 9 minutes. That’s a little over 19 solid days! It’s way beyond the previous high, 2015’s 370 hours (aka 15½ days), though not as much of an increase as that was at the time: 2015 beat 2014 by 133 hours, while 2018 beats 2015 by ‘just’ 91¼ hours. Finally, add in the those eights shorts and the total running time of my new 2018 viewing was 462 hours and 48 minutes. (Maybe next year I’ll start counting my Rewatchathon here too…)

    Next up, a graph I’ve never done before. I thought of it in a sudden flash of inspiration in early December, at which point it felt glaringly why-have-I-never-thought-of-this-before obvious. It’s my viewing mapped out across the year, month by month. It would be interesting to do this for every previous year, to see if the shape remains roughly the same or not. (I could do that, but it would be a lot of data to re-examine. Knowing me, I’ll wind up doing it someday.) One particularly noteworthy thing on this year’s chart: April and May are my two highest months ever.

    Now, the ways in which I watched all those films. For the fourth year in a row, the year’s most prolific viewing format was streaming. It accounted for 109 films, which sounds like a big increase from last year’s 76, but because I watched so many films this year its percentage actually fell, from 2017’s 43.2% to 41.8% in 2018. That’s well down on 2016’s 57% as well, which pleases me because I own an awful lot of discs that I ought to be watching instead.

    To break the above down further, my streaming service of choice was actually Amazon (same as last year, in fact), with 37 films (33.9% of streams). Netflix was close behind on 35 (32.1%), though if I included TV series it’d be far in front. A little way behind was Now TV with 25 (22.9%) — not bad considering I only subscribe for a month or two in order to watch the Oscars. Well, I like to get value for money. Finally, there was Rakuten with nine (8.3%), all of which were individual rentals rather than through a subscription. That was mainly thanks to my parents having some vouchers that needed using up, but also a couple of UHD rentals — it’s so much easier to find 4K films on Rakuten than on Amazon, in my experience.

    The format in second place was Blu-ray. Every year I write in this stats post that I need to watch more of the stuff I buy on disc, but this year I finally made good(-ish) on that desire: I watched 82 films on Blu-ray (31.4%), a 78% increase on the average of the last four years. That’s a solid improvement, but I could still do better.

    It’s a big drop to third place, where we find a tie between TV and downloads, each with 25 films (9.6%). That represents an increase in percentage for both of them from last year, so my reduction in streaming didn’t go entirely to Blu-ray. Oh well. The graph below is for TV, because it was once so mighty in my viewing, but it’s worth noting this is the highest year for downloads ever. Not sure why — I don’t feel like I download that many films.

    In fifth place we find the once-dominant DVD, reduced to a lowly 12 films (4.6%). That’s an increase from last year’s eight, though the percentage is more or less the same (it was 4.8% last year). I’ve got hundreds of the things that I purchased in the format’s heyday but never got round to watching, which nowadays are sometimes trumped by availability elsewhere. I don’t even mean paying to upgrade to a Blu-ray — why watch something in SD on DVD when I could stream it in HD on Netflix or Amazon Prime?

    With such a high overall total, it’s no surprise that almost every format saw an increase this year. The only exception was cinema, which stormed up to third place in 2017, but now returns to bringing up the rear, as it has since 2013. I made just nine trips this year (eight for new films, plus I saw Mission: Impossible – Fallout a second time), exactly half of last year’s 18. Will it go back up again in 2019? That depends what the big screen offerings are like, I guess.

    In amongst all that, I watched 18 films in 3D (6.9%), up from 11 last year, and 14 in 4K UHD, a massive increase on last year’s one! Goodness knows what direction those numbers will go in future. I still buy 3D Blu-rays, but there are an increasing number of forthcoming titles that were released in 3D theatrically but don’t have a 3D Blu-ray scheduled. It feels like the format may be tailing off now, sadly. As for UHD, Netflix continue to favour it for their series, but only sporadically for their movies — a number of their recent high-profile acquisitions are actually only 1080p, like Mowgli and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. But I did get a UHD Blu-ray player for Christmas (though I’ve not had a chance to set it up yet), so we’ll see how that affects things.

    That brings me to the HD vs. SD comparison — or UHD vs. HD vs. SD, as it is now. HD includes virtually all my Blu-ray viewing (I actually watched one film that was in SD but included on a Blu-ray disc), the vast majority of my streamed movies, most of my downloads, 60% of my TV viewing, and all my cinema trips. For UHD, it’s mostly streaming, but with three downloads too. Meanwhile, in the SD camp there’s DVDs, the other 40% of my TV viewing, a handful of streams, one download, and that one Blu-ray. The final result is 220 films in HD (84.3%). Topped up by the aforementioned 5.4% in UHD, that’s 89.6% in HD formats. It’s up over 1% on last year for the highest it’s been since I started keeping track in 2015. It’d be nice to leave SD behind entirely, but, like I said, I still have so many unwatched DVDs…

    Talking of formats, back in 2015’s stats I tallied up how many documentaries and animated films I’d watched (as opposed to “live-action fiction”, which unquestionably makes up the bulk of my film watching), because I felt like I’d watched a lot of documentaries that year. I’ve continued doing this count each year since, but never mentioned it again because there was nothing noteworthy to say. This year, however, it seemed like I was watching quite a lot of animation, so I’ve revived it to see just how many. Well, the total was 34 animated movies. In terms of sheer volume, that’s over double the average of the last three years. As a percentage, it’s 13% of 2018’s viewing, vs. an average of 8.1% over the previous three years. So, yes, I did watch more animated movies than usual this year. (And while I’m here: documentaries were well up on the last two years too, though not quite as numerous as in 2015.)

    Turning to the age of my viewing now, and the most popular decade was the 2010s (as it has been every year since 2012) with 138 films. It’s a high number, but in percentage terms it actually represents a significant drop: it works out as 52.9%, and you have to go back to 2014 to find a time it was lower. In other words: I watched a greater number of older films. Good good.

    So, which decades benefited the most? Well, several of them saw increases from last year, with more achieving double-figure tallies than ever before, but the ’60s and ’80s fared particularly well. In second place, however, was the 2000s, though with just 29 films it was a distant second indeed; and at 11.1%, it’s actually a slight percentage decrease from last year’s 11.9%. The same is true for the decade in fifth place, the ’90s: it increased its number (from 15 to 20), but the percentage went down (from 8.5% to 7.7%).

    In between those we have joint third, where there’s the aforementioned ’60s and ’80s, each on 21 (8%). In sixth place is the last decade to make double figures, the ’70s with 17 (6.5%). Rounding things out, the ’40s had eight (3.1%) and the ’50s had six (2.3%); then, after nothing for the ’30s or ’20s, the 1910s had one (0.4%).

    In terms of languages, English was as dominant as ever, with 229 films wholly or significantly in my mother tongue; but at 87.7%, that’s easily the lowest percentage it’s ever been. Still, nothing else comes close, though for the second year in a row Japanese was second, in 23 films (8.8%). The only other language to manage double figures was French with 11 (4.2%). In total, there were 27 languages, plus one silent film. American Sign Language once again put in more than one appearance, and British Sign Language appeared in a short film too. Other more uncommon (for me) ones included relatively strong showings by Korean (six) and Hindi (four), and single credits for languages like Hebrew, Urdu, Xhosa, and Yiddish. Also, two films with some Klingon.

    As for countries of production, the USA once again dominated with 189 films, though at 72.4% that’s down quite a bit as a percentage. Second place (as ever) was the UK with 52 films, which at 19.9% also represents a drop in percentage. In third place for a second year was Japan. Last year it more than doubled its previous best, and this year it’s done it again, going from 14 to 30 (11.5%). Close behind was France on 25 (9.6%). After that there’s a drop to Canada on 12 (4.6%), and tied for sixth place are China and Italy with 10 (3.8%) apiece.

    Normally I’d run down the rest of the countries with multiple films, but there were quite a few this year. The likes of Germany (seven) and Australia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand (five each) contributed about as many as normal, but there were uncommonly strong showings for Sweden (six), South Korea (five), and Spain (also five). In all, 29 countries were involved in the production of at least one film.

    A total of 208 directors plus 17 directing partnerships appear on 2018’s main list. The former is a record, smashing the previous best of 157. The latter… isn’t. It is a tie, though. Of those 225 directing ‘units’ (I mean, what do you call them?), 29 had multiple credits, which is also a new record. Top of the pile are Giuliano Carnimeo and Sylvester Stallone, each with four — the former all Sartana films, the latter all Rocky films. Right behind them with three apiece are Kazuo Ikehiro (all Zatoichi films), Frank Oz, Ridley Scott, and Kimiyoshi Yasuda (also all Zatoichi films). A preponderance of sequels also bulk up the list of directors with two films to their name, though I won’t list the series they each contributed to. The directors, however, are: John G. Avildsen, J.A. Bayona, Ingmar Bergman, the Coen brothers, Ryan Coogler, Jon Favreau, Richard Fleischer, Spike Jonze, Richard Lester, Doug Liman, Akira Kurosawa, Christopher McQuarrie, Kenji Misumi, Hayao Miyazaki, Roger Nygard, Todd Phillips, Peyton Reed, Martin Scorsese, Hiroyuki Seshita & Kôbun Shizuno, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, and Edward Zwick. Finally, Alan Crosland directed a feature and a short.

    For the past few years I’ve specifically charted the number of female directors whose work I’ve watched. There were 9 female directors represented in 2018’s viewing, with 8½ films to their name — the half coming from Marjane Satrapi co-directing Persepolis. As the graph below shows, it’s a pathetically small number, representing just 3.26% of my viewing. It’s an increase on the last two years, at least, but not much of one! I could undoubtedly do better if I sought out more films by female directors, but that’s kind of my point: I just watch films, and this is what happens — if female directors were better represented in the industry as a whole, the graph would automatically look healthier.

    On a somewhat brighter note, at time of writing a stonking 27 films from 2018’s list appear on the IMDb Top 250 (or whatever they want to call it nowadays). That’s my best total ever. However, because the list is ever-changing, the number I have left to see has only gone down by 20, to 49. I’m getting relatively close to the end now, though… The current positions of this year’s inclusions range throughout most of the list, from 29th (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) to 241st (Paper Moon).

    At the end of my annual “top ten” post I always include a list of 50 notable films I missed from that year’s releases, and I continue to track my progress at watching those ‘misses’. In 2018 I watched more movies from every year’s list. To rattle through them (including the overall total seen in brackets), this year I watched: two from 2007 (36); five from 2008 (29); two from 2009 (31); three from 2010 (33); five from 2011 (38); two from 2012 (34); two from 2013 (34); one from 2014 (42); one from 2015 (33); and 12 from 2016 (42).

    Finally, in the first year of watching 2017’s 50, I saw 33 of them. For the fourth year in a row, that sets a new record for the best ‘first year’ ever, beating the 30 from 2016’s list that I watched during 2017. This year has also set a record for how many films I watched across all the lists: it adds up to 68, which tops the 60 I saw during 2016.

    In total, I’ve now seen 385 out of 550 of those ‘missed’ movies. That’s exactly 70%, up from the 63.4% I was at by the end of last year. Shiny. Though, how long this can keep improving is debatable — a couple of those lists are getting fairly near completion, and most of them include some titles I’m not at all interested in watching. Time will tell. (As usual, the 50 for 2018 will be listed in my next post.)

    To finish off 2018’s statistics, then, it’s the climax of every review: the scores.

    At the top end of the spectrum, this year I awarded 39 five-star ratings. Despite the record-breaking total, that’s not the most I’ve ever handed out (there were 40 in 2015). Did I watch less-good films? Am I stricter? Who can say? Well, it means I gave 14.9% of films full marks, which is roundabouts in my usual range (the lowest year was 11.9%, the highest 21.2%).

    Second place went, as usual, to four-star films, of which there were 122 — the most ever. Again, turning it into a percentage makes things more normal: at 46.7% it places bang in the middle of previous years (five have higher percentages, six lower, with a range from 31.5% to 53.3%). The total of 76 three-star films is also the largest number ever, but at 29.1% isn’t close to being the biggest proportionally (that’d be 2012, when three-star films made up 38% of my viewing. It was the only year with more three-star films than four-star ones).

    Bringing up the rear, there were 21 two-star films — again, that’s the most ever, but at 8% it’s actually the third smallest proportion-wise. Finally, there were just three one-star films, which sits in that category’s regular ballpark as both a number and a percentage. I don’t know what this all tells us, if anything. Possibly just that I’m a consistent marker. I guess this graph backs that up (barring the weird spike in 2012).

    Lastly, all those numbers lead us to the average score; the single figure that (arguably) asserts 2018’s quality compared to other years. The short version is 3.7 out of 5, the same as it’s been for the last three years, and 2007 and 2009 before that too — that’s exactly half of all this blog’s years. But if we go to three decimal places, we can actually rank the years. At that level, 2018 scores 3.663, which is the lowest average for five years. That said, it’s still higher than 2007-2010 and 2012-2013, which means it sits more or less in the middle of all years — 6th out of 12.

    As I was saying: pretty consistent marking. (Goodness knows what exactly went on in 2011 and ’12, mind.)

    And that’s all the stats done for another year!


    2018 is almost at an end! All that’s left is to rank my favourites in my “top 10%” list. But, having watched so many films this year, that 10% is notably bigger than usual — the list might take a little while to put together…

    2018: The Full List

    2018 was the biggest year of 100 Films ever in terms of films viewed, and by some margin: my previous highest total was 2015’s 200, but this year I made it all the way to 261. Throw in my Rewatchathon and I watched 311 feature-length films this year.

    This post is, as the title should suggest, a list of those — plus a few other bits and bobs, as outlined in this handy contents list:



    Here’s a graphical representation of my 2018 viewing, month by month. Each of the images links to the relevant monthly update post, which contain a chronologically numbered list of every new film I watched this year. There’s also other exciting stuff in them, like my monthly Arbie awards, and the list of what I watched in my Rewatchathon.












    And now, the main event…


    Here’s an alphabetical list of all the new-to-me films I watched in 2018. Each title links to the appropriate review… unless I haven’t posted one yet, in which case it currently links to my “coming soon” page.

    Alternate Cuts
    Other Reviews
    Shorts
    The 400 Blows

    Annihilation

    The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

    Being John Malkovich

    Black Narcissus

    Bohemian Rhapsody

    Christopher Robin

    Compulsion

    Death at a Funeral

    Die Hard with a Vengeance

    The Florida Project

    Gods of Egypt

    The Greatest Showman

    Heathers

    I Kill Giants

    Inferno

    Jodorowsky's Dune

    Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

    The Lives of Others

    Lupin the 3rd: The Secret of Mamo

    Matinee

    Mute

    The Navigator

    Paddington 2

    The Pixar Story

    Prevenge

    Ran

    Rocky

    Sartana's Here... Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin

    The Shape of Water

    Step Brothers

    Superman II

    Their Finest

    The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

    The Way of the Gun

    Wild Strawberries

    Zatoichi and the Chess Expert

    Zorro

    Terminator 2 3D

    Mission: Impossible

    Bao

    The Silent Child

    .

    This year I reviewed many and various television programmes across 12 monthly columns. It would be pretty meaningless just to list those columns, so instead here’s an alphabetical breakdown of what they covered, with appropriate links.


    Breaking down the above list in all kinds of different ways, it’s everyone’s favourite part of the entire year (or mine, at least): the statistics!

    The Past Christmas on TV

    Once again it was another busy festive period on the tellybox, and here’s what I thought of what I watched.

    Doctor Who  Resolution
    Doctor Who: ResolutionNow, that’s more like it! After the damp squib of alleged-finale The Battle of [Mashes Hand on Keyboard], this New Year’s Day special does a much better job of putting a capstone on series 11. Despite its status as a separate “special” episode, it’s hard to deny that it’s actually part of the last series (despite what BBC Worldwide would have us believe, with their cash-grab move of leaving the episode out of the series box set, which isn’t even released for another fortnight): Ryan’s dad finally turns up (after being mentioned multiple times during the main series), while the primary storyline does a more subtle and effective job of mirroring series premiere The Woman Who Fell to Earth than Battle of Thingy-Wotsit did by just having a returning villain.

    Resolution has a returning villain too, of course: the Daleks! Or, rather, one sole Dalek. Like 2005 episode Dalek, Resolution seeks to make a single Dalek a world-threatening force, and largely does a bang-up job. As has been thoroughly demonstrated by now, current showrunner Chris Chibnall isn’t half the writer that Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat are (and he only proves this harder by trying to emulate their styles so often), so Resolution doesn’t have as much freshness or innovation as some Dalek tales from Davies’ and Moffat’s eras. But, saying that, the Dalek ‘riding’ a human via some kind of icky telepathic link is a new idea, which makes for some effective horror moments, especially given the creepy cephalopod-influenced design of the creature. There’s plenty of exciting running about too, making this the most blockbuster-like version of Who we’ve yet seen from Chibnall’s era.

    It still wasn’t perfect (as glad as I was to see Ryan’s dad turn up, the lengthy heart-to-heart scenes crippled the pace, and his inevitable redemption was narratively unearned; plus, Yaz continues to get shafted with “generic companion” duties), but overall it was a fun treat for Christmas New Year’s Day. More episodes with this kind of ambition when the series returns in 2020, please!

    The ABC Murders
    The ABC MurdersOnce upon a time it seemed implausible that anyone would ever try to play Poirot ever again, given how iconically (and thoroughly) David Suchet had embodied the Belgian detective during the 25-year series in which he starred. But I suppose it was inevitable that it would happen someday, and so following Branagh’s go at the end of last year, this year ends with another pretender to the throne: John Malkovich. Where Branagh stuck to tradition, with a flamboyant and fastidious embodiment of the character that seemed in-keeping with how Agatha Christie wrote him, Malkovich and regular TV-Christie scribe Sarah Phelps (she’s written all of the BBC’s new adaptations to date) have gone more revisionist. This Poirot is quiet, unassuming, ageing, almost embarrassed to be butting into the police investigation, especially as they would rather he pushed off, and he lives in a 1930s where fascism is ascendent and foreigners are despised, so he feels compelled to hide his Belgian roots as much as possible. It all feels psychologically plausible (and the mirroring of Brexit Britain are obvious), but it’s also a big set of changes to take in one go, which understandably angered some fans. I confess, I’ve never read a Poirot book, but I was a fan of the Suchet series. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this take on the character as an alternative — it may not be faithful, but it is believable.

    The same could be said of the plot. Poirot and/or Christie are best remembered for country house-type murder mysteries, with a bunch of upper-class suspects in a confined location, who Poirot interviews one by one before bringing them all together to explain what happened. This was the format that Branagh used to reassuring effect in his film (and, presumably, will continue to use in his next one, if my memory of its structure serves me right). The ABC Murders doesn’t go that way, however, with Poirot on the hunt for a killer who taunts him via letters. The suspect pool is limited not by confined location, but by how sophisticated the viewer wants to be at guessing — the structure is that of a howcatchem rather than a whodunit, as we witness the murderer going about his deeds while Poirot attempts to find him out. But this is Christie, so there’s a twist in the tail. Look, I’m trying not to spoil it for anyone who’s not seen it yet, but everyone I was watching with figured early on that (last spoiler warning!) the guy who was Obviously The Murderer was not the murderer, and so it turned into the usual guessing game of “which recognisable guest star did it?” Well, at least one aspect of this was reassuringly familiar, then.

    Watership Down
    Watership DownThe BBC and Netflix teamed up for this £30 million CG animated adaption of Richard Adams’ children’s novel, perhaps most (in)famous for its 1978 film adaptation that is said to have traumatised all who saw it (I never have). I guess most of that money went on the all-star cast (seriously, the number of well-known names is mad — far too many to list here, so you can check out this list if you want), because it certainly doesn’t seem to have been spent on the animation. Frankly, much of the series looks like an unfinished animatic; the stuff you sometimes see on animated movies’ DVD release as deleted scenes or work-in-progress versions. And yet, there are occasional flashes of polish: look closely at the rabbits’ fur in many scenes and you’ll see high levels of detail.

    Cheap production values are not the be-all-and-end-all, though — such things can be easily overlooked if there’s a good story or characters. But Watership Down’s animation is so poor that it scuppers that, too. Most of the characters are visually indistinguishable, made worse when there are so many of them to get to know, and very little screen time is invested in delineating them. It’s not even something you get used to or work out for yourself — the longer the series went on, the more confusing it became to follow who each rabbit was and what was meant to be happening to them. It’s frustrating and distancing, getting in the way of you caring about the characters or the story, which literally ruins the entire production. We stuck with all four hours of it because of a bloody-minded “we’ve started so we’ll finish” attitude. I’d recommend not even starting it.

    Not Going Out  Ding Dong Merrily on Live
    Not Going Out LiveNormally I’d fold this into the comedy roundup (see below), but I enjoyed it so much I’m singling it out. As the title implies, this was a live edition of the long-running sitcom. What inspired that, I don’t know, but it paid off with the series’ best episode for years. The storyline didn’t necessitate the live-broadcast format in the same way as 2018’s other live comedy special, Inside No.9, but writer-star Lee Mack built in various sequences to push what was possible live. And, naturally, some things went wrong — golden opportunities for a quick-thinking comic like Mack, who got to throw in plenty of improvisations and fourth-wall breaking. It may not be sophisticated, but it was funny. Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I watched it twice within 24 hours.

    Comedy roundup
    Upstart Crow: A Crow Christmas CarolAlso tickling my funny bone this season were a new Upstart Crow Christmas special, given a prime Christmas Day slot. It riffed off A Christmas Carol, which was unfortunate because I saw rather too many version of that this year (see below for another). I can’t say Crow’s take was particularly special, but I’m fond of the sitcom anyway so another episode is always welcome. The night before that (Christmas Eve, for those not keeping up), BBC One had one-off comedy-drama Click & Collect, with Stephen Merchant as a dad who must travel to the other end of the country to collect that year’s most-wanted toy for his daughter, accompanied by his irritatingly over-friendly neighbour. It’s the kind of fluff that would feel a bit too daft most of the time, but hits the right light-entertainment note at Christmas. A bit more cutting edge was Goodness Gracious Me: 20 Years Innit!, marking the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking British-Asian sketch show with a special that used some of the series’ funniest sketches as examples to discuss what made the show so important. It was a subtly clever way to be both “greatest hits” clip show and retrospective documentary at once. Sadly, the repeat of an overlong old Christmas special that followed wasn’t quite as vintage. And, as I’m rounding things up, there were also seasonal editions of panel shows Mock the Week (the usual clips and outtakes), Have I Got News for You (more compiled clips), and Insert Name Here (actually a new edition! I’m fond of it and was happy to see back on our screens). Several others I’m yet to catch up on (Would I Lie to You, The Imitation Game), though I did see both new episodes of Mrs Brown’s Boys. I know I “should” hate it, but the Christmas Day one, at least, made me laugh.

    Also watched…
  • Black Mirror Bandersnatch — Was it a film? An episode of TV? Something else? I’m still not 100% sure, but I went with “film” and reviewed it in full here.
  • A Christmas Carol — A filmed version of Simon Callow’s one-man show, and another production that sits on the film/TV divide. They released it in cinemas before it was on TV, though, so I’ll be reviewing it as a film at some point. The only reason I mention it now, then, is because I thought it was very good and wanted to point out it’s still on iPlayer.
  • The Dead Room — Simon Callow reading again, this time in Mark Gatiss’ latest attempt to revive the beloved-by-some “Ghost Story for Christmas” format from the ’70s. It was an effectively creepy little tale while it lasted, but it seemed to stop before the story was over.
  • Mark Kermode’s Christmas Cinema Secrets — A festive edition of the series that entertainingly explains the inner workings of genre. In this case, we learn that pretty much every Christmas movie is basically A Christmas Carol.
  • Les Misérables Episode 1 — OMG there woz no singing!!!! (Proper review in a future post, when more of it has aired.)

    Things to Catch Up On
    A Series of Unfortunate Events season 3This Christmas, I have mostly been missing A Series of Unfortunate Events season three — the final one! Okay, it only came out yesterday, but I was with family and couldn’t watch it (ugh!) Not that I’d want to rush through it, anyway. By the time you’re reading this I’ll have made a start, and it’ll be reviewed next month. The same is true of Luther season four, which also started yesterday and which I’ll watch sometime later.

    Next month… look away, if you can: it’s the final series of Unfortunate Events!