The Puny Monthly Review of June 2019

All good things must come to an end, and so a half-decade-long streak has concluded… well, we now know said streak ended last month, but it was this month that actually put a stop to it.


#95 Deadwood (2019)
#96 Murder Mystery (2019)
#97 Untouchable (2011), aka Intouchables
#98 Shaft (2019)

(That poster was so pathetically small, I almost felt I shouldn’t bother… but then I wrote this note, meaning I could embiggen the image to go alongside here too, at which point it became much more satisfactory. Yay formatting!)

Deadwood: The Movie
.


  • So, I only watched 4 new feature films in June.
  • On the downside, that ends a five-year streak of watching at least 10 films every month. (A streak that lasted exactly five years, by-the-way — I forgot to mention that last month.)
  • On the bright side, it means there’s some slightly different stuff to talk about in these stats. Like, for example, that June 2019 is the lowest-totalling month since June 2013, which was six whole years ago.
  • It’s the 150th month of 100 Films, by-the-by, but also the 15th with 4 or fewer films. That means it’s in the bottom 10% of all months, which is its own kind of achievement.
  • It takes the average for June down from 10.5 to 10.0, meaning it just keeps its head above the waterline for something I’ve been working on for a while now, i.e. getting every month’s average above 10. (The only remaining outlier is July, which is on 9.9, so that’ll be fun next month…)
  • It also takes the average for 2019 so far down from 18.8 to 16.3, and the rolling average of the last 12 months down from 19.3 to 18.0.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: true-story French comedy-drama Untouchable, aka Intouchables in its original language, aka The Intouchables in the US. It’s amusing and heartwarming, but its elevated position on lists like the IMDb Top 250 oversells it somewhat.
  • There’s no Blindspot film this month. If I hadn’t upped my goal to 12 films on both lists that’d be fine, but now I’ve got one to catch up.
  • I also watched nothing from last month’s “failures”, so I guess that makes them a double failure. Oh dear.



The 49th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Not much to choose from this month, obviously, so the belated TV movie revival/finale of Deadwood walks away with this one easily.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
It’s come in for a pasting from critics and box office figures alike, but I thought the new Shaft was passably entertaining, but as it’s fuelled by outdated gags and a buddy-movie tone that sits awkwardly with the franchise, it’s certainly the weakest of this meagre selection.

Ranking All the Shaft Films I’ve Seen
1) Shaft
2) Shaft
3) Shaft

Look, I’m Struggling To Think of Categories For This Because I Only Watched 4 Films This Month, Okay?
Er, I think that ‘award’ title just about covers it…

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Adam Sandler’s latest film generated Netflix’s biggest ever ‘opening weekend’ viewership this month, being watched by almost 31 million accounts over its first three days. So it’s no surprise to see Murder Mystery easily top this month’s list of my most-visited new posts — it had almost 15 times as many views as the post in second place.



Considering I couldn’t even keep up with my main list goals, it should come as no surprise that my Rewatchathon suffered — and suffered worse, too, as I didn’t rewatch a single film this month. Oh well.


In a month where I watched so little, it should come as no surprise that I failed to watch plenty of stuff in particular. On the big screen, I missed the finale for this iteration of the X-Men, Dark Phoenix, as well as attempted franchise revival Men in Black: International (based on the poor reviews, I expect said revival will be short-lived), and the seemingly-unnecessary but now acclaimed Toy Story 4. That last one looks like it’ll be playing for a while, so maybe I’ll catch it yet.

At home, a couple of things I missed at the cinema in February have now made it to disc, where I failed to watch them again — namely, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (which I bought) and The Kid Who Would Be King (which I didn’t, mainly because I couldn’t tell if its UK 4K release was actually happening or not (I suspect it’s not)). Other recent purchases fall into the Rewatchathon bracket: Glass, Annihilation, Schindler’s List, and the Mummy trilogy… although I never got round to seeing the third one, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, so, er, that’s not a rewatch.

Actually, between sales and limited edition new releases, I also added a bunch of older films to my unseen pile, including The Blood on Satan’s Claw; The Holy Mountain; John Woo’s Last Hurrah for Chivalry and Hand of Death; and Arrow box sets presenting trios of early Brian De Palma works (The Wedding Party, Greetings, and Hi, Mom!) and Jia Zhangke films (24 City, A Touch of Sin, and Mountains May Depart). I really ought to get on with watching some of them…


I’m away on holiday for half of next month, so, along with everything else going on, there’s a very real chance July will continue this fewer-than-10-films streak — though hopefully it won’t be as disastrous as July 2009

Advertisements

The Past Month on TV #48

I ended my last (ever so popular and entirely uncontroversial) TV column by asking, “what can possibly follow Game of Thrones?” Well, here’s the answer…

To get specific, this month’s column includes the first two seasons of BBC America’s big success, Killing Eve; the newest work from TV auteur Stephen Poliakoff, Summer of Rockets; the opening episodes of ITV’s new Downton-wannabe, Beecham House; and the latest season of internal affairs thriller Line of Duty. Plus the usual array of bits & bobs, and stuff I meant to watch but haven’t. (No Twilight Zone this month. It’ll be back.)

Killing Eve  Season 1
Killing Eve season 1Adapted (loosely, I understand) from a series of novellas, BBC America’s Killing Eve is a spy thriller with a difference. Quite a few differences, really. That’s no doubt part of why it’s been such a success. Its US ratings aren’t huge, but it seemed to be talked about all over Twitter when it was airing there, and it went on to win some awards. When it finally made it to UK screens some five months after its US premiere, UK viewers went even bigger for it (it gets more than ten times as many viewers here as in the US, according to the figures I found), and it scooped up even more awards.

If you’re not familiar with it, it follows lowly MI5 agent Eve (Sandra Oh), the only person to spot a pattern in a string of unconnected murders. They have indeed been carried out by one person, assassin Villanelle (Doctor Foster’s Jodie Comer), a quirky, fun-loving young woman who brings that same attitude to her skilful kills. When Eve is appointed to lead an MI6 task force hunting Villanelle, the two women become fascinated with each other, and a strange bond grows between them.

The espionage thriller aspect is a mixed bag. There’s an early plot line about a mole that ended with the most obvious “could be a mole” character being ‘unmasked’ as a mole, but then there’s a lot more intrigue to be found in the secretive machinations of Eve’s MI6 supervisor (Fiona Shaw), Villanelle’s handler (The Bridge’s Kim Bodnia), and just who is employing Villanelle and why.

But, as written by Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who served as showrunner for the first season), it all plays out with offbeat humour and a certain degree of comical groundedness — even as the life of an international assassin is as wildly improbable as, well, it is, Eve’s life is a recognisable world of church hall bridge clubs, wheelie suitcases, and microwaved shepherd’s pie. The comedy that arises from these culture clashes is a big part of the show’s charm.

Killing Eve  Season 2
Killing Eve season 2The second season is still airing in the UK (people who didn’t even notice that five-month wait for season one got ever so het up when the US got the second run two months before the UK), so no spoilers here. Season two brings with it a new showrunner, and it does seem to lack some of that special spark in the writing, although to emphasise that as a criticism would be unfair: it’s still a lot of fun, and the cast know how to get the most out of the material. With Villanelle on the back foot and Eve diverted onto another serial killer case (a subplot which peters out long before it’s been used for maximum drama, sadly), there’s a different dynamic to the early part of the season. Later on (in the episodes that’ll air next month over here) things come together in new and surprising ways, which is more rewarding. It lacks the striking freshness of the first season, but it still has its moments. And, of course, it leaves things in an intriguing place for the already-confirmed third season.

Summer of Rockets
Summer of RocketsI’m not sure there are many people like Stephen Poliakoff working in TV nowadays — people who are seemingly given free rein to author standalone miniseries exactly how they want. I’m sure it’s more complicated behind-the-scenes than it looks from the outside, but it appears like Poliakoff’s reputation is solid enough that he’s allowed to write and direct with his own particular voice for entire six-episode stories. Honestly, I’ve skipped his last few, because I haven’t always found his work wholly engaging, but this espionage-tinged series sounded more up my street. Like Killing Eve, it’s an idiosyncratic take on the spy genre; though whereas that’s quirkily comical, Summer of Rockets is more rooted in period family drama.

It stars erstwhile Bond villain (and regular radio Bond) Toby Stephens as Samuel Petrukhin, a Russian-Jewish émigré who’s keen to be thought of as an Englishman but can’t quite escape his background in the highly structured society of the UK, especially as it’s 1958 and the Cold War is at its height. After accidentally befriending a society lady (Keeley Hawes) and her MP husband (Linus Roache), Samuel is approached by MI5 to feed them information about his new friends. But why? And are the men from MI5 actually on the level? Meantime, Petrukhin’s teenage daughter is being forced to attend society parties she has no interest in to help bolster the family’s status, and his son is being sent off to boarding school for the same kind of reasons. Apparently it’s semi-autobiographical — I guess that comes more from the latter subplots than the spying stuff. It all plays out with the pace and air of an auteur drama, making it feel a bit heavy-going and possibly impenetrable in its early episodes, but I warmed to it immensely as it went along. I love traditional, genre-based spy thrillers, but it’s also nice to see something that takes elements of that but plays it with a few different flavours.

Beecham House  Series 1 Episodes 1-2
Beecham HouseIt’s been a few years since Downton Abbey ended now, so it makes sense ITV continue to search for a replica of its success. I think Victoria ticked that box for a while, until its ratings sloped off against Poldark… and so now we have Beecham House, which mixes a bit of Poldark into the familiar period soap opera mix. There’s also some pedigree behind the camera: the series is co-created, -written and -directed by Gurinder Chadha of Bend It Like Beckham fame. I think it’s meant to be vaguely educational, too, as it’s set in a period of Indian history a bit earlier than we’re familiar with from other British Raj dramas.

Well, I’m not sure how successfully any of that has translated onto the screen. Most of the main characters are white Englishmen and women, including the lead, John Beecham, a kind of Poldark-y, Indiana Jones-y figure — a former soldier who left the East India Company because he didn’t like their values. He believes India should be ruled by Indians, you see… although the current ruler is set up to be one of the series’ villains, as his suspicion of Beecham is standing in the way of our hero’s business plans. But it’s okay, because the house’s servants are all locals, and they’re a funny bunch so we like them. I guess your mileage will vary on whether the show is outright regressive or just not as progressive as it perhaps ought to be, given how they were talking it up.

But even leaving that aside, the exposition-heavy dialogue is frequently leaden and undramatic, leaving the cast floundering unsuccessfully to breathe some life into their characters. It all looks suitably lavish, thanks to copious location filming and a no-doubt-healthy costume budget, but the lack of polish where it matters will sink the programme unless it can somehow improve quickly. But then again, it is on ITV, so you never know, it might run for years and years at this level…

Line of Duty  Series 5
Line of Duty series 5Every series Line of Duty introduces us to a new case of possible police corruption for the dedicated boys and girls of AC-12 to expose, and every series it turns out to tie into the overarching tale of deep-rooted links between organised crime and a never-ending parade of bent coppers. But could they finally be getting to nub of it all? They’ve got a solid lead… and so, it seems, does their newest case: an undercover officer who seems to have gone native, but might actually be onto the top man behind it all. The real problem is, he suspects it’s good ol’ Ted Hastings, the head of AC-12 himself. Well, who better to run police corruption than the guy in charge of investigating corruption? And it forces his underlings to ask: are his borderline-illegal actions just bold moves to get the job done, or is he trying to cover for something?

So never mind “who watches the watchmen,” who watches the watchmen who watch the watchmen? Well, turns out it’s Anna Maxwell Martin, popping in for the last couple of episodes as a very by-the-book copper to interrogate the suspected mole to end all moles. Except she’s so by-the-book, so keen to catch out our one-time (and possibly still) hero, that you may wonder: who watches the watchmen who watch the watchmen who watch the watchmen? If that makes your head spin… well, that’s Line of Duty for you.

Also watched…
  • Deadwood The Movie — A feature-length one-off produced by HBO Films but airing on TV? I figure that’s as much of a film as most of Netflix’s original movies, so I’ve counted it as 2019 #95 and will review it separately later. For now, suffice to say it’s really good.
  • Glastonbury 2019 — Between living in the Westcountry and never really being big into music, Glastonbury is more something that’s liable to cause traffic and travel disruption than be a significant part of my cultural life. Nonetheless, this year I watched the headline sets from the main Pyramid Stage: Stormzy, which, er, wasn’t my kind of thing; and the Killers, which was. So that was nice. There’s tonnes of it still available on iPlayer, if you’re interested.
  • Historical Roasts Season 1 Episodes 1-2 — I’ve long nurtured the theory that British and American standup are different enough that they don’t necessarily translate well to the other audience, and this new Netflix series is doing little to dispel that notion. That said, it’s an entertaining enough concept and the results are amusing enough. Though its low scores on IMDb make me wonder if my pet theory is wrong after all…

    Things to Catch Up On
    Good OmensThis month, I have mostly been missing stuff left, right and centre due to my house move. Sorry to bring that up again, but it’s really upended my viewing schedule. Headliners include the Amazon/BBC adaptation of Good Omens — it’s one of my favourite novels, it’s adapted by one of the original authors, and it stars some of my favourite actors, so I’ve been very much looking forward to it; but because of all that I want to be able to sit down and watch it properly, and I’ve just not found the time yet. Another is the final outing for the MCU on Netflix, Jessica Jones season 3, which is perhaps blighted by the fact it’s 13 episodes long — that wasn’t a lot once upon a time, but as things trend down to 10 or 8 or even the good old UK standard of 6, it feels like more of a commitment. Other things that have been similarly afflicted include the feature-length Game of Thrones making-of, The Last Watch; film-to-TV sitcom adaptation What We Do in the Shadows (and I loved the movie, so I must get round to it); the other new sitcom starring Matt Berry, Year of the Rabbit; and Chernobyl, which I was just going to skip (there’s so much “great TV”, no one can watch it all), but the extremity of the praise it’s garnered has changed my mind on that one.

    Next month… Stranger Things 3 is out (in just a few days’ time, in fact), but I’m off on holiday, so it’ll have to wait ’til I get back.

  • The Surprisingly Thorough Considering How Quickly I Dashed It Off Monthly Review of May 2019

    Hello, fine readers! I’m going to have to make this quick, because I’m actually right in the middle of a house move. The palaver around that has led to regular tail-offs in posting over the past few months, and during May in particular, though it hasn’t had too much affect on my actual viewing, as you’ll soon see (June may be another story, but that’s next month’s discussion).

    That’s also why there isn’t my usual header image for this post — they take a disproportionality long time to put together (whereas the post itself is still fairly lengthy because, as the famous adage alludes, it’s easier to write something long than something short). Hopefully I’ll have time to retroactively create the header next week. (In case you were wondering, the chap in the current image isn’t me — it’s some fella off YouTube. I just found it on Google Images.)


    #71 Godzilla (1954), aka Gojira
    #72 Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
    #73 The Secret Life of Pets 3D (2016)
    #74 The Eyes of Orson Welles (2018)
    #75 Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
    #76 Jaws 2 (1978)
    #77 The Meg 3D (2018)
    #78 Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
    #79 Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
    #80 Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival (1970), aka Zatôichi abare himatsuri
    #81 Zombieland (2009)
    #82 Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
    #83 Bumblebee (2018)
    #84 The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
    #85 Cleopatra (1970), aka Kureopatora
    #86 BlacKkKlansman (2018)
    #87 Dracula (1931)
    #88 Widows (2018)
    #89 Cosmopolis (2012)
    #90 The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)
    #91 The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
    #92 The Saint (2017)
    #93 Devil’s Cargo (1948)
    #94 Hairspray (1988)


    • So, I watched 24 new feature films in May.
    • That makes it the best month of 2019 so far, passing the average for the year to date (previously 17.5, now 18.8).
    • It’s a good all-timer too, in the top 5% of all months. It’s still not the best May ever — that was last year’s, which is also my best month ever. Therefore it brings the rolling average of the last 12 months down (from 20.1 to 19.25), even though it beats it.
    • It’s my 60th consecutive month with a tally of 10+. With all that’s going on right now, June may yet be the month to break that streak.
    • I can’t remember when I last discussed this (so apologies for the lack of link to the full background), but I’ve been tracking the days of the year on which I’ve ‘never’ seen a film, and I only have three left to tick off. One of those was May 23rd… and still is, because I missed it again. Darn.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film is also this year’s Stanley Kubrick film (I’ve been working my way through his oeuvre at the rate of one per year, initially by coincidence but now semi-deliberately), Eyes Wide Shut.
    • This month’s Blindspot film: classic Universal horror Dracula.
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched Bad Times at the El Royale, Everybody Wants Some!!, and Widows.



    The 48th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    Plenty of worthy films to pick this month, whether they be critically-acclaimed awards-winners or critically-acclaimed films that were snubbed for awards, and most of those are more likely to make my year-end favourites list than what I’m going to pick now. It’s certainly not the ‘best’ film here, so maybe it’s just my current stresses making me wish for simpler entertainment, but I did have a lot of fun watching The Meg.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    When the rumour broke that Robert Pattinson was going to be the next Batman, some people on social media joked that he’d already done a great Bruce Wayne movie. Or maybe they weren’t joking, I don’t know. Anyway, the movie in question was Cosmopolis, which I’d been meaning to get round to, so I did, and I hated it. My Letterboxd comments are here.

    Most Destructive Giant Monster of the Month
    My May was incidentally filled with monsters of all different types: sharks from the sea, giant prehistoric sharks from the sea, giant prehistoric radioactively-enhanced dinosaur-like creatures from the sea… Also vampires, zombies, and alien robots… But worst of all was definitely the KKK in BlacKkKlansman.

    Most Vivid Reminder of Stuff I Watched Years Ago of the Month
    A few years back I reviewed the RKO film series starring the crime-solving character The Saint, which I continued by reviewing RKO’s follow-on series about The Falcon, and later covered the similarly-toned Thin Man series. So #91 to #93 this month brought back memories: The Kennel Club Murders stars The Thin Man’s William Powell as another murder-solving layman accompanied by his trusty dog (though neither had as much character as in the better-known series); The Saint was an attempt to reboot the character for a 2010s TV audience, later expanded into a feature-length film (and it’s as ropey as a rejected-pilot-turned-movie sounds); and Devil’s Cargo was an attempt to continue the Falcon series after a few years off, with a brand-new leading man and no continuity… but while it has a pretty poor rep, I actually thought it was a solid addition to the series.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    In terms of site views, May 2019 is far and away my biggest month ever — it individually surpassed the totals for the entirety of 2012 (the first year for which I have these stats), 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. The driver of that was my reviews of Game of Thrones. What I said about the finale provoked lots of comments, and the number of hits it’s received in the past 10 days would normally mean it’d not just be the month’s top post, but already a lock for the most visited post of the year. But the TV post before that, which included my thoughts on Thrones episodes three and four, had an additional 13 days to rack up visitors during a time when it seemed like everyone was talking about the series. So it’s no real surprise that The Past Month on TV #46 is this month’s victor, as well as a likely candidate for the most-visited post of the year. In fact, it received enough hits in its first week to get into, not just my top posts of the week, or month, or even year, but my all-time top ten! (It’s wound up as 4th all-time for now.)


    I finally gave the directors page header image its annual update this month (it was due in January but I kept just not getting round to it). For those who don’t know, it displays the 20 directors with the most number of films I’ve reviewed.

    What were this year’s changes? Woody Allen is gone, for the first time since I started the page, and Tarantino’s out too. But I had seven directors tied for the last three slots. So, David Lynch went as well, because I often like an “all change” approach; John Carpenter and Tony Scott have been on the banner before, so I ruled them out for similar reasons; and also the Coen brothers, because I wasn’t entirely sure how to fit them both in. That meant the new additions were: Stanley Kubrick (those “one per year”s finally built up!), Richard Linklater, and M. Night Shyamalan. I also changed a couple of the other photos, just to give it a bit of a refresh (specifically: Ron Howard, Christopher Nolan, and Robert Zemeckis).



    This has continued apace too…

    #17 The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
    #18 Ghostbusters II (1989)
    #19 John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
    #20 Hairspray (2007)

    I rewatched each of the Matrix movies a month apart, which would be kinda neat if I’d actually planned to do that. More thoughts at the above link. I’ll save what I thought of Ghostbusters II for when I give it the same “guide to” treatment.

    I rewatched John Wick 2 ready for the third, then haven’t had a chance to see it. For some reason I felt no desire to rewatch the original as well, which is weird because, while they’re pretty equal in quality, I’d say the first one is slightly better on balance.

    Finally, that’s my fourth viewing of Hairspray, which probably makes it one of my most regularly rewatched films now — it’s been four years since I last saw it, and before that the gaps between viewings were three years each time, and that’s pretty often and repeatedly by my standards!


    No time for trips to the cinema again this month, so I missed the likes of John Wick: Chapter 3, the live-action remake of Aladdin, and just-released Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Maybe next week.

    I’m sure Netflix have added some stuff that ought to be on my watchlist but I also haven’t had time for. And naturally my Blu-ray collection has grown (when doesn’t it?), but right now I can’t actually remember what with (normally I’d have a pile somewhere nearby, but that’s all packed).

    Also on the way out is my V+ box. For the past couple of months I’ve been listing some of what’s recorded on it that I haven’t got round to, and so here’s the final batch of that: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, Camelot, Chef, Colombiana, The Counsellor, Dead of Night, The Dressmaker, Elizabeth, The Ghoul, The Innocents, Joy, The Love Witch, Only Yesterday, Rare Exports, Ruby Sparks, The Servant, Straight Outta Compton, and Supercop. Whew!


    With all that’s going on in my life right now, will June be the first month since May 2014 where I watch fewer than ten new films? I need at least six to make it to #100…

    The Past Fortnight on TV #47

    This fortnight: mad queens, burning cities, and melting chairs on Game of Thrones; disembodied little girls, controlling space captains, and time travelling dreamers on The Twilight Zone; and a couple of other bits & bobs at the end, too.

    Game of Thrones  Season 8 Episodes 5-6
    These episodes have been hella controversial, so I’m going to stake my position right away: the penultimate episode isn’t perfect but is very good; the finale was fantastic. If you’re one of those people who rated it 1 on IMDb, you’re an idiot. Yeah, sure, opinions differ, and if you didn’t think it was as superb as I did then you may have some valid arguments… but 1 out of 10? No. Those people are morons.

    The Mad QueenTo call these two episodes “the climax” of Game of Thrones feels slightly disingenuous, because really the whole season has been the climax (to wit, my review of episodes one and two is here, and episodes three and four here). As I think I discussed before, I feel this is where some people’s maladjusted complaints about it stem from — a misunderstanding of the pace the story’s being told at. This isn’t a show that is plot, plot, plot until a conclusion wraps everything up within the final episode. There’s far too much going on for that to be possible. No, the whole season is the conclusion. How they paced that conclusion across the final few episodes is another matter, because I agree that sometimes the story has moved too fast this season, and The Bells is (at times) another case in point. I completely buy Dany’s turn to the dark side: it’s been building since almost the start of the series (mistaken by many for her being powerful and just) and the events of the past few episodes have really pushed her to the edge — and, of course, over it.

    So, I think the groundwork is there to explain her ‘sudden’ turn, but the speed those events were relayed to the audience didn’t give people enough time to process where it was leading her. The distrust of the very people she came to liberate when she arrives in the North; their lack of explicit gratitude after the Battle of Winterfell; the deaths of her closest friends and allies, Ser Jorah and Missandei; not only the grief of that, but losing their cool-headed advice; distrusting the advisors she does have left — Varys betraying her, Tyrion seeming to constantly let her down, Jon rejecting her romantic advances; not to mention that he represents a very real threat to her life-long goal; and, despite his protestations that he doesn’t want it, he went against her wishes and told his family, which means others now know… All of that underpins her ‘sudden’ desire to burn King’s Landing and all its people. But when that’s been conveyed across just a couple of episodes, along with a whole load of other stuff that’s been going on, I don’t think people had time to process it. In my review of Last of the Starks I argued that it should’ve been extended and split in two, and I think the same is probably true of The Bells: everything up to the attack on King’s Landing actually happening is one episode; the extended action sequence(s) that follow is another. That kind of extension would not only bring obvious screen time advantages — literally, more and/or longer scenes to play out what’s happening — but it also adds time between episodes (a whole week) for viewers to mull over and discuss what they’re seeing, rather than pelting headlong into more events.

    Azor AhaiConversely, I thought the finale, The Iron Throne, was excellently handled in virtually every respect, including the pace. Well, mostly. I mean, I think it’s only during their conversation in front of the Iron Throne that Jon realises what he has to do to Daenerys, so that he then immediately carries it out is a little abrupt — should he have gone away, to steel himself for the task, and done it later? Maybe. Equally, why wait? And the scene needs to occur there for the powerful events that follow with Drogon’s grief and melting the throne. Some would also say the time jump to the Dragonpit court is a case of rushing the story, but do we need to see the Unsullied taking Jon Snow prisoner? Do we need to see the armies arrive at the gates of King’s Landing? You could draw the story out by putting all of that on screen, but what you actually need to know for the narrative is conveyed in the dialogue. Mind you, here I am wondering if it should’ve be slower when some of those petition-signing halfwits reckon “nothing happened” this episode. After weeks moaning about the pace being too fast, they think this was slow that “nothing happened”! There’s no helping some people…

    As for the final stretch, where the episode laid out where everyone ends up, I liked that part most of all. There’s a fitting fate for everyone — not necessarily what’s just or fair, but then when has Game of Thrones ever been about delivering that? I would’ve liked to see Grey Worm punished for the heinous war crimes he committed, but sometimes bad people get away with bad things. Poor Tyrion is stuck as Hand of the King, though it’s a job he remains suited to, perhaps especially because he’s not sure he deserves it. Bran is an odd choice for king, perhaps, but Tyrion sold me on the notion in the same way he did the assembled lords; and I don’t think Bran wanted it, but I think that, as the all-seeing Three-Eyed Raven who has always acted to protect humanity, he can see it’s the right course.

    The rest of the Starks get fates that suit them entirely. Arya has talked about wanting to sail west before, in season six; personally, I’ve wondered if that was her destiny even before she voiced it — it fits her nature, to explore the unknown. Sansa is Queen in the North, a role she has earned in so many ways — her arc, from naive little princess to powerful political leader, is arguably the greatest in the entire series. Jon is sent back to the Night’s Watch — as explicitly stated, it’s just as a punishment, but there’s a political motive too: if he can father no heirs then there will never be any offspring to grow up believing they have a true claim to the throne. But it’s not a real punishment, of course, because it means he can venture north of the Wall, where his heart really belongs. I suspect Bran knew that when he sentenced him.

    Last of the StarksTo cap it all off, both episodes were incredibly well made. That’s par for the course on this mega-expensive show, but it still merits observing. Okay, perhaps The Bells had a few too many scenes of King’s Landing’s destruction (a point on pacing again), but it was all spectacularly realised, keeping us mostly in the streets with the people who were really suffering. For striking moments, however, the finale was the place to be: that shot of Dany with Drogon’s wings (the subject of its own mini Twitter controversy, for yet more dumbass reasons); her speech to her assembled forces in the ruins, the staging and design evoking the the Nazis or Stalin’s Russia; the melting throne; the final montage, with the matching shots of Sansa, Arya and Jon embracing their destinies; and the very final scene, a mirror image of the opening scene of the very first episode. What a way to end; even with a green root poking through the snow north of the Wall — a dream of spring.

    The Twilight Zone  ‘Best Of’
    As regular readers will know by now, for the past couple of months I’ve been reviewing the best episodes of the original 1959-64 iteration of The Twilight Zone, according to IMDb voters and an article I happened across on ScreenCrush. So far I’ve mostly stuck to episodes that are in the lists’ top tens (the exception is one I reviewed last fortnight, Nick of Time, which is #12 on ScreenCrush and #25 on IMDb), and in this fourth selection I’ll be finishing off those top tens.

    Little Girl LostFirst, two episodes from season three. The Shelter is one of just four episodes in the entire series with no sci-fi or fantasy element (according to its IMDb trivia page). When the warning sirens go off that missiles, presumably nuclear, may be on their way to destroy the United States, a foresightful doctor and his family are able to retreat to their bomb shelter, but his less prepared neighbours want in too. It’s another of Rod Serling’s morality tales about the truth of human nature, and a particularly potent one because it’s very easy to relate to almost everyone’s position — there are no heroes or villains here (well, except for maybe one racist guy), just people who want to survive. The titular room is made for three people, not the dozen or so who try to break in to share it, which suggests perhaps the episode’s most universally applicable lesson: in panic, logic goes out the window.

    Little Girl Lost merits 8th on ScreenCrush’s list, but only places 39th on IMDb. I side closer to the former. Another episode by the great Richard Matheson, this one is about parents whose little girl goes missing in the middle of the night — they can hear her calling somewhere in the house, but she’s nowhere to be seen. The setup has some contrivances (I mean, it’s the middle of the night, your six-year-old daughter is calling out for you, but she’s not in her bed, nor under it, so your next step is to… phone your friend who’s a physicist? O…kay…), but it just expedites where the story is going to go anyway. That said, it doesn’t always make the best use of the rest of its time (a trippy sequence in another dimension goes on longer than necessary). It’s not as unnerving as it might’ve been (the horror of your child being you-don’t-know-where, plus a disembodied little girl’s voice coming from somewhere and nowhere within the house? Sounds like a recipe for a horror movie to me), but it’s more minded to its edge-of-science explanation than a disquieting atmosphere. Ultimately, it’s using a relatable situation to explore a notion at the limits of scientific understanding, which is very fitting for this show. Plus it has a cute dog who’s instrumental in saving the day, which is always a significant bonus in my estimation.

    On Thursday We Leave for HomeFor its fourth season, Twilight Zone was scheduled as a replacement for another series, meaning it had to expand to hour-long episodes to fill the given time slot. This is largely regarded as being to the series’ detriment, and I can see why — I mean, some of the 25-minute episodes feel padded, so doubling the length…! Consequently, season four has very few episodes at the top of either list. The exception is On Thursday We Leave for Home, which is the highest-ranked season four episode on both: it comes 10th at ScreenCrush, but still only 24th on IMDb. This one is outright sci-fi from the off: it’s set on mankind’s first off-world colony, which has been a disaster, and after three decades a spaceship is finally arriving to take them back to Earth. What unfolds is another tale of man’s hubris and delusion with a self-wrought tragic ending — in other words, an episode of The Twilight Zone. But it has a unique angle and commentary on the corrupting influence of power; about how being in charge of the colonists has become Captain Benteen’s very reason to exist, to the point where he not only can’t imagine life any other way, but he can’t imagine his ‘subjects’ would want it any other way either. He’s thoroughly deluded.

    It’s significant, I think, that Benteen views ‘his people’ as children who are unable to make their own decision, but he was only 15-years-old when they arrived there, and at the end he hides away, like a small child who doesn’t want to go home, until it’s too late and the ride has left; except rather than a parent playing a trick to get the child to change their mind, the ride is really gone, and Benteen discovers too late that he’s doomed himself. The episode makes strong use of the double-length format to let this unravel itself, establishing how tough life has been on the colony, then the relief and euphoria of their “rescue” arriving, before the truth of Benteen’s mind is revealed. Sure, you’d tell the same story faster today, but for the era it doesn’t feel drawn out (there are 25-minute episodes that are worse for that). So, it’s not just “the best of a bad bunch”, but a great little sci-fi parable in its own right. You could probably remake it as a feature…

    A Stop at WilloughbyFinally for now, season one’s A Stop at Willoughby, which doesn’t quite make either list’s top ten (it’s 12th on IMDb, 17th on ScreenCrush), but I keep hearing it mentioned elsewhere as a favourite episode or referenced in other ways (as with Eye of the Beholder last time, it factors into Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!). It’s about a harried ad exec in ’60s New York, whose boss’ motto of “push, push, push” pretty well tells how he’s feeling. On the train to his suburban home (there’s no real correlation here, but there are definite shades of Mad Men across this setup!) he falls asleep and wakes when the train stops at the village of Willoughby… in the year 1888. It’s an idyllic place on a warm summer day, with people enjoying leisurely strolls in the park — a simpler, calmer time. But then he really wakes up: he didn’t travel in time, Willoughby was just a dream; but it’s a dream of a place and time where he’d rather be — can he get back there? If Walking Distance was an ultimately uplifting story about how you can’t go home again, A Stop at Willoughby is its dark mirror image. Suffice to say, the town of Willoughby is most definitely located in the Twilight Zone.

    Also watched…
  • Eurovision Tel Aviv 2019 — Normally I give Eurovision a full review, but I was a bit underwhelmed by it this year. Even by its own standards the music was mediocre, and there was little memorable in the actual performances either (with the exception of Australia’s pole stuff). Oh well.
  • Thronecast Series 8 Episodes 5-7 — I applaud the final episodes of Sky Atlantic’s tie-in show for not ignoring that there’d been some displeasure online, but deservedly praising the episodes anyway, especially the finale.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Years and YearsThis fortnight I have mostly been missing Years and Years, the new drama from the pen of Russell T Davies that spans the next couple of decades to look at, presumably, how much worse things are going to get even than they are now. I’ve long been a big fan of Davies’ writing, though must confess I’ve missed most of what he’s done post-Doctor Who — I’ve been meaning to get round to A Very English Scandal ever since it aired, which was a whole year ago now. Hopefully I won’t take so long to get to this new one.

    Next month… what can possibly follow Game of Thrones?! No, I don’t know either.

  • The Past Fortnight on TV #46

    I’m throwing off the usual monthly format of these TV reviews to keep up with coverage of Game of Thrones. This time: the Battle of Winterfell and its aftermath. Next time: the series finale!

    Also this fortnight: new BBC fantasy sitcom Ghosts, the first (sort of) episode of Columbo, the latest editions of Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema and Thronecast, and more of the best tales from The Twilight Zone.

    Game of Thrones  Season 8 Episodes 3-4
    Game of Thrones season 8Almost two years ago, just hours after Game of Thrones’ seventh season finale aired, I tweeted the following:

    Crazy(?) Game of Thrones s8 prediction: army of the dead defeated in ep2 or 3; humans return to bickering amongst themselves for 3 or 4 eps.

    Well, reader, I’ve been feeling a bit smug for the past couple of weeks, I must admit. It was quite widely known that the big battle between the living and the dead at Winterfell was coming in episode three, but it seemed like a lot of people expected it to be a victory for the Night King, with a retreat to King’s Landing in order for the final battle to happen later. I suspected differently, and I was right. That a lot of people didn’t suspect that and were consequently outraged that the Night King and his army could be defeated so ‘early’… ugh, let’s not get into that. Other than to say: this has always been a show (a) more concerned with the politicking of humans than supernatural threats, and (b) that zigs when you expect it to zag (or does neither, if your name’s Rickon). And further to that, we’re only three episodes from the end of a 73-episode story — in percentage terms, these final few episodes are kinda the epilogue; they’re about what happens after The Great War is over.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Long Night itself was… well, it was an interesting choice of episode title, firstly, considering the Long Night is already an event in Westeros’ history and is rumoured to be the title of the in-production spin-off series. (It also sent Wikipedia editors into a tizzy, but what else is new?) More pertinent controversy was found in the way the episode was shot, i.e. very dark. Too dark for a lot of people to see, in fact. Many blamed the cinematographer, but it seems to me it was more likely HBO’s compression wiping out detail in the blacks — many other viewers who watched the episode from higher-quality sources (including myself) found no problem seeing it on correctly-calibrated televisions. And, when watching a decent copy in good viewing conditions, much of it actually looked spectacular — the darkness was effective for conveying the scariness of the events being witnessed, and it was punctuated with some beautiful moments from firelight or moonlight.

    The Battle of WinterfellContent-wise, the episode was one long battle — the longest ever in film or TV history, apparently. More isn’t always more, mind. While I didn’t find it boring or drawn-out, it also wasn’t perfect. The battle tactics left a lot to be desired, something spotted by lay-viewers, never mind the “how it should’ve been done” articles by professional military tacticians that followed the broadcast. And the way things played out, a lot more deaths were warranted. Quite a few key characters did fall, and even more faceless masses, but the way it was staged made it a miracle that so many people escaped unscathed. There are three episodes left — you need characters to fuel the story, and major characters left to be sacrificed later too — but that doesn’t mean you have to stage it so everyone effects an improbable escape. There’s a balance to be found between “it looks like they’re all about to die” and “it seems literally impossible everyone would’ve survived those last-minute odds”. But hey, this isn’t the first time the show has succumbed to this, and there was a lot else to like: lots of effective individual sequences within the battle, great callbacks to previous lines and events, some heroic sacrifices, and a perfect ending. (I’m really not going to talk about some dickheads’ reaction to that.)

    So, with the presumed Big Bad defeated with three feature-length episodes still to go, next week’s The Last of the Starks was tasked with both showing the aftermath of the battle and charting a course into the series’ endgame. As it turned out, it was much more than that, with major events all of its own. This is where the reduced episode count rears its ugly head for me because, much like in season seven, I feel like they’re rushing certain events just for the sake of getting the series finished, not because it merits a picking up of the pace. There were things in episode four that felt glossed over or skipped past; things which merited a bit more time and focus. If anything, this felt like two episodes glued together — and out of the three 80-minute episodes the show has now done (the other being the season seven finale), I’ve felt that way about two of them. Why not add another 15 to 20 minutes of scenes and split this episode in two? It wouldn’t be unnecessary padding because, as I said, there was a load of stuff just raced past. I wanted to see Arya and Sansa’s immediate reaction to the news about Jon; and Tyrion’s, for that matter. I felt like there was a lot more to be done with Missandei’s storyline this episode — in my imagined two-part version, she would’ve been captured at the end of the first episode and there’d be scenes between her and Cersei before her ending. And, yeah, I wouldn’t’ve minded seeing Jon say goodbye to Ghost properly (a massive topic of discussion on social media this week).

    The Last of the StarksIt’s frustrating because I liked the tone of the episode overall — as I said, the return to human conflict and schemes; also a lot of the individual scenes between characters and so on. But it needs more room to breathe. It’s especially galling after the exceptionally spacious first two episodes this season, which did exactly that. They’ve said these last two seasons have fewer episodes because of the time and money needed to film the massive battle sequences, but that’s a thin excuse. It’s clear HBO would’ve given them however much money they asked for, and allow them however much time they needed — we’ve had to wait almost two years for this final season, remember. So it doesn’t seem so ridiculous to think that this episode (and, as I said, last season’s finale) could’ve had another chunk of scenes added (which would’ve ‘just’ been characters talking, really) and been split in two. I don’t care about raising the overall episode count (though that doesn’t hurt), I just care about giving these characters and storylines their due.

    Well, I guess it is what is now, but it’s a shame. Hopefully the final two episodes can bring things to a good conclusion — not necessarily a joyous one, because this is Game of Thrones after all, but one that feels suitable and satisfying. Based on the show’s current track record, I’m worried I’ll approve of where it ends up but think it was too hurried getting there. It feels like there should be more than a mere two episodes left to wrap all this up.

    Ghosts  Series 1 Episodes 1-3
    GhostsThis new sitcom from the writing and performing troupe behind the original TV iteration of Horrible Histories and the Sky One fantasy comedy Yonderland is pitched as a more adult-focused series, but it’s not exactly 18-rated stuff, just a little cheekier than they might’ve done before. Anyway, it’s about a young couple who inherit a crumbling old mansion, which is home to the ghosts of various people who’ve died there down the centuries. As the couple attempt to make a life for themselves and restore the place on a budget of nothing, the ghosts cause various issues, while also having problems of their own — turns out being dead isn’t the end of your emotional woes. I wouldn’t say Ghosts is the most hilarious sitcom you’ve ever seen, but it has a definite charm. It also surprises with genuine emotion, particularly in the third episode, where we learn about the death and family of one of the more recent ghosts.

    Columbo  Murder by the Book
    Columbo: Murder by the BookI’ve never seen Columbo before, and despite this being the first episode (er, kind of — I believe it was preceded by two other pilots) this isn’t the start of me watching it regularly. No, I watched this for one simple reason: the director was a certain Mr Steven Spielberg, in his pre-movie days when he directed a handful of TV episodes. Unsurprisingly, such an early work contains little about its style that screams “Spielberg”, but it’s still a classily staged production, with a lot more going for its visuals than the point-and-shoot style we associate with old TV. The story’s not a bad one either, about a crime novelist who murders his co-writer following the methodology from an unused plot. He thinks he’s a clever bugger who’s got away with it easily, but Columbo seems to see through him right from the start. Well, I’m not sure dumping the corpse on your own front lawn is the best way to go about claiming “it wasn’t me.”

    The Twilight Zone  ‘Best Of’
    With still no sign of the new Twilight Zone making its way to a UK platform, here’s another selection of some of the best episodes of the original 1959-64 series, as determined by cross-referencing the opinions of IMDb voters and an article I happened to stumble across on Screen Crush. (My previous such overviews can be found here and here.)

    The Hitch-HikerFirst up, season one’s The Hitch-Hiker is another Twilight Zone tale where we can’t be sure if the protagonist is experiencing paranoia or the supernatural — undoubtedly a recurring theme for the series, almost to the point where it’s less a “theme” more just a fact of its format. Anyway, this particular reiteration is effectively unnerving, with a scenario that’s relatable — you can just imagine how it would feel if you kept seeing the same hitchhiker by the side of the road, always somehow ahead of you, always staring at you with a despondent look… it gives me chills just thinking about it. Director Alvin Ganzer gets good mileage out of that element too, creating some effective shocks. Aside from that the execution isn’t top notch though, with Rod Serling seeming to have taken too much inspiration from the original radio play (by Lucille Fletcher) in his inclusion of some over-explanatory narration. The trademark twist ending is both altogether guessable for the savvy viewer, but also doesn’t really explain a whole lot.

    Two from season two next, including another of the series’ most famous episodes, Eye of the Beholder (spookily, it’s referenced in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, which I happened to watch last night). It’s an episode with a message, but that feels a long while coming because most of the episode clues you in to where the twist is coming from thanks to how it’s shot. Anyway, it’s a commentary on appearances and the segregation of otherness; that the enforcement of “normality”, of conformity, isn’t good. Here it’s being enacted by some totalitarian state, but that’s just a firm example for the sake of analogy — society does it anyway in our real world. The twist ending underscores this point by adding that normality, or beauty, or whatever you want to call it, is all relative anyway. It’s a worthwhile message, but even at a short 25 minutes parts of the episode felt padded.

    Nick of TimeI was more taken with Nick of Time, written by the reliably superb Richard Matheson. Starring William Shatner as a superstitious honeymooner, it’s a neat little tale about a cheap fortune telling machine that might actually predict the future. As well as a genre tale about the perils such a machine might pose, it’s really about superstition and belief in fate vs. self determination — a strong moral life lesson bundled in a quirky supernatural fable. That’s Twilight Zone at its best, really. Similarly, season five’s Living Doll is another of the series’ most genuinely unnerving episodes. Telly Savalas stars as a man whose own insecurities make him paranoid and abusive towards his wife and stepdaughter. When the kid gets a new talking doll, it begins to taunt and threaten him, but only when no one else is around to hear. Again, it’s very creepy, but has a point to make beyond that.

    Finally for now, it’s back to season two for The Obsolete Man. As I mentioned at the start, I’ve been using two different “best of” lists to guide my Twilight Zone viewing, and this is the biggest disagreement between them thus far (though there are 18 other episodes with bigger differences, so it’s all relative). Whereas IMDb’s consensus-voted opinion says this is the 10th best of all 156 episodes, Screen Crush only ranks it in the middle of the list, at 68th. It’s an initially simple story about the evil and cowardice of totalitarianism: in the opening scene, a man is sentenced to death for being of no use to a fascist regime. However, he has a cunning little plan up his sleeve. As a drama it’s clearly born of an era that was still directly reacting to Hitler and Stalin, but it’s all the more pertinent today as Western societies tip dangerously towards the kind of horrendous ideologies we used to fight, blithely ignorant of the lessons of history. Many Twilight Zone episodes have aged in the sense that the narratives can seem straightforward and guessable to the modern viewer (thanks to endless imitation and our exposure to more stories of this type), but the moral lessons remain depressingly relevant over half a century later.

    Also watched…
  • Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema Disaster Movies — Another one-off edition for this excellent series, a Bank Holiday special about that old staple of Bank Holiday TV schedules. Kermode (plus co-writer Kim Newman) is as insightful as ever about the similarities and connections between these movies across the decades. I hope we get another full series, but if it’s set to continue only as occasional specials, well, that’s good too.
  • Thronecast Series 8 Episodes 3-4 — I don’t know if the booker got better or just got lucky, but this picked up considerably with some improved guests. Not that I disliked the people on the first two episodes, but the ones here seemed more knowledgeable and chattier. Episode 4 was particularly good. Fingers crossed the final two editions are equally worthwhile post-episode viewing.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Lucifer season 4This fortnight, I have mostly been missing the fourth season of Lucifer, which just returned as a Netflix exclusive. I’ve not watched season three yet, though, so that’ll be a little while off. I’ve also successfully managed to avoid any spoilers about Line of Duty’s recently-concluded series (touch wood). I’ve got a plan to binge it in a few weeks’ time (so, not in my next TV roundup, but should be the one after) — hopefully nothing will blow its secrets between now and then!

    Next fortnight… at the end of Game of Thrones, you win or you die.

  • The $1.2 Billion Monthly Review of April 2019

    We’re in the endgame now… except we’re not, because it’s only May — there’s two-thirds of the year left yet.

    And because it’s May, it’s time to look back at what I watched in April…


    #50 The Howling (1981)
    #50a Cotton Wool (2017)
    #51 Searching (2018)
    #52 The Gold Rush (1925)
    #53 Creed II (2018)
    #54 A Good Year (2006)
    #55 Aquaman 3D (2018)
    #56 Early Man (2018)
    #57 The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
    #58 The Silence (2019)
    #59 Amour (2012)
    #60 Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970), aka Zatôichi to Yôjinbô
    #61 Rampage 3D (2018)
    #62 Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
    #63 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
    #64 Click (2006)
    #65 The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)
    #66 Captain Marvel (2019)
    #67 Avengers: Endgame (2019)
    #68 Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
    #69 Mortal Engines 3D (2018)
    #70 The Help (2011)
    Searching

    Creed II

    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

    .


    • So, I watched 21 new feature films in April.
    • That’s a long way down from last April’s total of 33, but then that was my second best month ever.
    • In every other respect, April 2019 did good. It’s the joint best month of 2019 so far (tied with March), and is also in the top 11% of all months. It smashed the April average (previously 12.1, now 12.8), overleapt the 2019 average (previously 16.3, now 17.5), and equalled the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 21.083, though it now drops by exactly one whole film to 20.083).
    • Not content with having about 15 different film series on the go (depending how you count it), this month I picked up three more: The Purge (after watching the first last year), Resident Evil, and Ice Age. The first of those was because the sequel’s on Netflix UK and the threequel was on TV this month, so the stars kinda aligned; the other two… I dunno, it’s a whim as much as anything. As they both began with rewatches, I’ve written a little more under Rewatchathon.
    • This month’s Blindspot film: Edgar Wright’s comic book-adapted video game homage, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I kinda expected it to be a bit hipsterish and self-consciously ‘cool’, but I bloody loved it.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, in its original longer form. No Chaplin film I’ve yet seen has lived up to The Great Dictator for me, but, as with them all, this has its moments.
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched Captain Marvel, Creed II, The Help, Searching, and Game Night (see Rewatchathon).



    The 47th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    This month was a right old mixed bag, with films ranging from terrible to exceptional, from adequate to underwhelming, from surprising to disappointing. The two films that are frontrunners for this category both took a digital-based gimmick and turned it into something special. In the case of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, that was to apply arcade video game aesthetics to what is, really, an indie romance; and in the case of my ultimate pick, Searching, it was to present a missing person mystery entirely from the point of view of the computer screens our characters are using for their investigation. It’s fascinating, engrossing, and ultra-timely.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    As I said above, lots of middling-but-not-really-bad films this month, but there were a couple of genuine clunkers too. The worst of the bunch was probably Resident Evil: Apocalypse. There’s nothing wrong with a trashy zombie action B-movie, but its low genre aspirations are no excuse for it being so poorly made.

    Best Movie Actually Based on a Video Game of the Month
    Step aside, Scott Pilgrim and Ralph Breaks the Internet — we’ve got some based-on-real-video-game movies here! (Incidentally, how come I watched so many game-based movies this month?! Total coincidence.) As already outlined, Resident Evil: Apocalypse was a borderline disaster, but Rampage turned out to be very enjoyable. Its concept is pretty bloody stupid, obviously, but the end result was a lot of daft fun.

    Biggest Missed Opportunity of the Month
    Mortal Engines was so almost excellent, with astounding production design and visuals, but lacking something in character and narrative. But that’s trumped by Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, which takes the exciting, surefire combination of two remarkable screen heroes and bungles it into a dreary mess.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    Avengers: Endgame may’ve obliterated every box office record going this past weekend, but it wasn’t the most popular post on this blog. In fact, it finished third. It was a victim of extraordinary circumstance, because I had two other uncommonly popular new posts this month. Indeed, together they weren’t just my three most-viewed new posts, but the top three most-viewed posts overall. That never happens — even the winner is normally only somewhere in the top five (sometimes even lower), with second and third way down the overall chart. So, each of those three posts received enough views to be the clear winner most months, but instead it was a close-run thing. In second place, fuelled by Game of Thrones, was my latest TV column. But the winner was, of all things, mediocre direct-to-Netflix horror rip-off The Silence. Better luck next time, Marvel. I’m sure you can wipe away your tears with some of those 1.2 billion dollar bills…



    After failing to watch the Matrix sequels last month, this month I only failed to watch one of them.

    #13 Resident Evil (2002)
    #14 The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
    #15 Game Night (2018)
    #16 Ice Age (2002)

    Resident Evil and Ice Age each kick off series, as I mentioned earlier. In both cases, the initial instalment is the only one I’d previously seen, and both many years ago, close to their original releases — both of which were in 2002, coincidentally. I always intended to continue Resident Evil; Ice Age not so much. But two of them are on my 50 Unseen lists (2009’s and 2012’s, if you’re interested; two Resident Evil films are on those lists too, weirdly enough), and the fact the series somehow rolled on to five financially-successful films (even the last made over $400m worldwide) long after it felt like everyone had stopped paying any attention (or Americans had, anyway: only $64m of that $400m came from the US, down almost $100m from the film before) kinda fascinates me. Oh, and three of them are in 3D (in fact, that’s also true of Resident Evil — this is getting weird now).

    If you remember my review of Game Night (and if you don’t, it’s linked above), you might remember I bemoaned the Blu-ray’s dearth of special features (it only has about ten minutes’ worth). Having now watched them, it’s actually even worse, because the cast seem pretty fun to hang around with in the brief interview clips that are included (and I even laughed at some of the gag reel, which is a rarity). A little more of that (the interviews, not outtakes) might’ve been enjoyable, or a cast commentary. And considering how well-made the film is, a commentary from the directors would’ve been nice as well. Ugh. Anyway, I enjoyed the film even more on a second viewing — I think it’s a consistently hilarious, genuinely superb piece of work.


    This month’s misses on the big screen include the poorly received Dumbo, the well received Shazam, and the belated UK theatrical release of Eighth Grade. They thought it would be a good idea to release that last one on the same day as Endgame, and consequently it’s not even screening near me.

    At home, I’ve got rentals of Bad Times at the El Royale and Widows awaiting me on Amazon. Recent Blu-ray purchases include Finnish fairytale horror The White Reindeer, Fritz Lang film noir Human Desire, and far too much from Arrow’s recent sale. I also imported the German box set of The Hunger Games quartet for the sake of Mockingjay (both parts) in 3D, as well as all the special features that were missing from the UK releases. It doesn’t include the IMAX ratio on Catching Fire, though, so I’ll also be hanging onto my UK Steelbooks… though I guess I could sell the other three, but then I wouldn’t have a complete set. Ah, the life of a collector.

    Last month I noted there were 29 films recorded on my V+ TiVo, and that I’d never get round to all of them. Well, me being me, I only went and recorded some more; namely Everybody Wants Some!!, Filmworker, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983 version), Nebraska, The Purge: Election Year, Snowden, Wild Bill, and Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth — all 8 hours of it! That’s not getting watched, is it? I did watch some things though, and downloaded or bought others (for various reasons), so the current tally stands at… 29. Ha!


    Films and stuff, sure, but also: the end of Game of Thrones! If that TV review isn’t my most-viewed post next month, [episode 3 spoiler warning] I’ll take off my magic necklace and go die of old age in the snow.

    The Past Month on TV #45

    The past weekend may’ve been the hottest of the year so far (at least here in the UK), but you and I know the truth: winter is here. With any dreams of spring still a few weeks away, let’s revel in the final moments we’ll be spending with our favourite inhabitants of Westeros — the first two episodes certainly did.

    Also this month: Sky Atlantic’s Thrones companion shows, the third and final season of Deadwood, and more of the best of The Twilight Zone.

    Game of Thrones  Season 8 Episodes 1-2
    Game of Thrones season 8The final season of HBO’s fantasy epic began with its last two regular-length episodes (the remainder are each a feature-length 80 minutes, give or take), but they stand alongside the epics still to come as a kind of two-parter. Both episodes are set in the quiet before the storm(s) to come, with pieces being moved into place and everyone preparing themselves for what they assume is the endgame: a battle with the army of the dead. Of course, as outside observers we know the battle can’t be the end — there are whole characters and plot threads that will be left unresolved, whatever the outcome of the battle, and up to three (extra long) episodes to resolve them in. But such considerations are for future episodes; I mean, for one thing, next week’s big battle episode is likely to have a huge impact on who’s left standing, which will in itself indicate what ways forward remain possible.

    Anyway, back to the episodes we’ve already seen. The first, Winterfell, does the usual Game of Thrones season premiere thing of setting the scene: reminding us where everyone stands, and moving pieces into place ready for the season to come. But this is more than just a glorified “previously on”, with some important plot developments of its own, not to mention long-awaited reunions. In the former camp, the big’un is obviously Jon Snow finding out his true parentage. Well, to an extent: this isn’t news to the audience (even if you didn’t deduce it years ago, we were explicitly told about it last season… which aired, er, years ago), and while it clearly has an impact on Jon’s feelings about himself and his family, its effects on the plot won’t happen until more people hear about it.

    More exciting were the reunions. Jon and Arya may’ve been the objective headliner, but my personal favourite was Sansa and Tyrion. With everything else that’s gone down since, I’d practically forgotten that they were once married, but the facts of their relationship and what’s happened to them since, particularly Sansa, made for an electric scene. Indeed, Sansa interacting with anyone is pretty fantastic at this point. She was such a damp squib in early seasons, and, frankly, I wasn’t convinced by Sophie Turner’s acting chops back then either, but recently she’s become a decided force to be reckoned with. Her scenes facing down with Dany are a case in point, not least their heart-to-heart in episode two. Another reunion highlight was Arya and the Hound, another unlikely but memorable pairing who get the short but sweet scene they deserve. Arya reunited with Gendry too, of course, and in the second episode she really united with him. Well, I’ll leave the furore around that to Twitter (but if you want to know what I think, this thread is pretty on the money).

    A Knight of the Seven KingdomsI’ve already slipped into discussing A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, perhaps supporting my point that this is a two-parter in separate episodes’ clothing. Here we get more reunions, rehashes, and revelations. I mean, sure, Jaime arrives in Winterfell at the end of the previous episode, but it’s here that the meaning of that really plays out, with his trial-like scene before people he has wronged — and one he saved — before his one-on-one with the boy he pushed out of a tower all those years ago. In fact, if there’s one thing that does keep these two episodes distinct, it’s how much the season premiere mirrors the series premiere (i.e. season one episode one, Winter is Coming) — check out the image in this tweet for some of them.

    What the second episode really represented was some kind of… not reward, exactly, but certainly benefit, or acknowledgement, for those who’ve become invested in these characters over the many years we’ve spent with them (or, if you’ve only caught up recently, many bingeing hours). It was a chance to just hang out with some favourites, and for some of them to achieve long-awaited dreams. Yes, obviously I’m talking about Jaime knighting Brienne. I guess if you’re not invested in these characters then some of these scenes feel like so much padding (“get on with the fighting!”), but for most fans this is a possibly final chance to revel in their favourites — after all, surely a significant number are for the chop when the fighting begins…

    Thronecast  Specials + Series 8 Episodes 1-2
    Gameshow of ThronesIf you live outside the UK or watch Thrones via, er, other means, I guess you won’t know this: it’s UK broadcaster Sky Atlantic’s Game of Thrones aftershow — you know, one of those things where people connected to the show and sundry minor celebrities sit on a sofa and chat about the episode we’ve just seen. I’ve never watched it before because I’m normally one of those people who watches Thrones via, er, other means, and it rarely crops up on those, but I’ve had access for the first couple of episodes and, well, so far I’m not impressed. In the first episode, host Sue Perkins gamely struggled with guests seemingly dead set on chatting about anything other than what her questions asked, while the second felt like she was trying to get blood from three particularly reticent stones. The format’s not really at fault, but the guest booker might be… The Twitter reaction to these episodes suggests the show used to be better, so maybe they’ll re-find their mojo for the coming four episodes.

    More successful by far were two Thronecast-related specials that aired before season eight began (and these you can track down via the aforementioned euphemistic “other means”, if you’re interested). The first, Gameshow of Thrones, saw Perkins quizzing two teams made up of former cast members and celebrity fans in a panel show format. If you’re in the middle of a Venn diagram that covers “fans of Game of Thrones” and “enjoys comedy panel shows”, it’s a convivial 90 minutes. The other, The Story So Far, managed to recap the essential points of the parent show’s first seven seasons in another 90 minutes, with a mix of clips, narration, and cast and fan interviews — all very useful when we’re heading into the concluding hours of the story, especially when it’s been a couple of years since it was last on. Certainly quicker than a 67-hour full re-watch, anyway.

    Deadwood  Season 3
    Deadwood season 3It’s quite a well-known piece of trivia that creator David Milch’s original pitch to HBO was for a series about two lawmen in the early days of Rome, thematically concerned with how we establish the rules and agreements of a society. With the series Rome already in development, HBO encouraged Milch to take the interesting theme but relocate it, and so he landed upon a frontier town in the old West butting up against the ever-widening reach of civilisation. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the show’s third season, with local elections looming and outside forces attempting to exert their influence over the town. The latter is represented by the arrival of mining magnate George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), who becomes a thorn in the side of both previously-dominant saloon owner-cum-gangster Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) and honourable but short-tempered sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant). Those two, once enemies, must join forces (along with most of the other regular characters) to attempt to counter Hearst’s moves. Where once Al could’ve just had the guy killed and fed to Wu’s pigs, his outside connections make that impossible — stakeholders would come looking, bringing even more attention and seeking justice. Civilisation, eh?

    In my review last month, I mentioned the season two storyline that saw Al taken out by illness, as a way to reduce his influence over the rest of the characters and events. Season three does something similar, but ‘depowers’ him in a more interesting way: against Hearst, Al is at a disadvantage, certainly in terms of brawn and, possibly, in terms of scheming brainpower too. The way one particular show of strength from the businessman emasculates Al leads to some great introspection, leading the barman to doubt himself and his skills, possibly for the first time ever, certainly that we’ve seen. It serves to further deepen and strengthen the quality of an already great character. At the start of season one he’s clearly a villain, but he quickly becomes more, so that by this point he’s really an anti-hero. That’s partly because he’s the lesser of two evils next to Hearst’s ruthlessness, but also because we’ve had time to get the true measure of his character — as much as he tries to hide it, Al has a bit of a heart, and he certainly operates according to codes of honour and loyalty. It might not always be the same as that of the rest of society, but it’s strongly held. He still does despicable stuff, but there are many shades of grey there; and while Al is the marquee example, you find those shades in all the other major characters too — it’s part of why every performance is so great, because this quality cast are given such excellent material to work with. When most of the characters who’ve been regulars since the start begin to come together in the face of the threat from Hearst, it’s immensely satisfying, even as the threat they face seems insurmountable. The final few episodes are exciting, powerful stuff.

    Unhappy happeningsNot that the third season passes without fault, mind. By the middle of the season, episodes were being written so on the fly that they could only use standing sets and regular locations, because there wasn’t enough lead time to build anything new or travel to other locations. Later, outdoor scenes had to be cut back, as a tightening budget left no room for all the extras and horses needed to convey the town’s bustling streets. While these production issues are mostly covered for well enough, some storylines are also affected. For example, Wyatt Earp and his brother arrive in town, apparently with some big secret scheme in the offing, but in the very next episode that’s completely forgotten as they’re hastily written back out. Plus, considering the already sizeable regular and recurring cast, it’s mad that Milch decided to (a) add even more characters, and (b) devote an unwarranted amount of time to meandering subplots starring minor characters. It doesn’t ruin the show, but it means some good actors and characters go to waste as we while away time on things no one would miss if they‘d been ditched. The worst offender for me is Steve the Drunk and the never-ending kerfuffle around the livery, which starts out as an adequate and pointed subplot but eventually just drags on and on. Someone in the writers’ room must’ve loved that character and his (increasingly tiresome) verbal diarrhoea.

    Similarly, many fans object to the acting troupe who turn up to establish a theatre in the town, their antics again seeming like an aside from the main thrust of the series. I have more sympathy for them, however. For starters, they’re led by the reliably excellent Brian Cox. His presence and interactions with the regulars is definitely worthwhile, especially in his position as an old friend of Swearengen’s, becoming a different kind of sounding board for Al, particularly valuable when he’s on the back foot for so much of the season. Secondly, I think it can be easy to forget that season three wasn’t meant to be the end — the theatre troupe may feel like time-wasters when we’ve got such limited time in this world, but the show was meant to carry on for several seasons after this, and their deeper merit was yet to come (plus there would’ve been plenty more time for everyone else, as well). Thirdly, Deadwood is the story of the titular town, and so the actors’ presence and effect on the town as a whole is the very point — Deadwood itself is the true main character, and its development is the primary “character arc” of the show.

    Guess which one's Milch and which one's HBO...Sadly, that arc was never completed. Milch knew the writing was on the wall before the season was completed, and there’s a very plausible theory that the second half of the season is actually an allegory for the conflict between Milch and the executives at HBO (you can read about that in W. Earl Brown’s comment on this article at Uproxx), and it seems he used the little notice he had to attempt some kind of conclusion. It’s an odd old ending, though. You can see Milch knew it was going to be a de facto finale — it kinda serves as such — but, at the same time, it’s clearly not the final end he would’ve had if he could’ve. According to Milch, the final line of dialogue (which also gives the episode its title) was aimed at the audience. “Wants me to tell him something pretty” — meaning: the show’s refusal to wrap things up in a bow was not a failure to conclude; rather, it’s not a neat and tidy resolution because Milch was not just “telling us something pretty”.

    The disappointment of the series being cut down before its time is compounded by the fact this early cancellation seems to have stalled the show’s reputation in the minds of some. As a commenter observed on Uproxx review’s of the finale, it’s like people go, “ah, Deadwood — shame it got cancelled after only three seasons”, and leave it at that, while shows that come to a ‘proper’ ending (like The Sopranos or The Wire or Breaking Bad or whatever) get all the focus. Maybe it’s something sharpened by the very act of ending: people sit up and notice The End of an acclaimed show, even those who’ve never even watched it, but when a show just peters off or fades away because it was cancelled prematurely, it doesn’t get that moment of focusing. Maybe Deadwood will finally earn that recognition next month, when HBO airs the long-anticipated follow-up movie. It’s a great series — imperfect, I’d argue, but at its best the equal of any other — and it’s not mentioned as often as it should be.

    The Twilight Zone  ‘Best Of’
    Time Enough at LastThe new Jordan Peele-hosted iteration of Twilight Zone still doesn’t have a UK broadcaster, so I’m continuing last month’s theme of cherrypicking the very best episodes from the original 1959-64 series.

    One observation I made last time was that the series seems to be a victim of its own success, in that its influence has been so widespread over the past six decades that the original episodes sometimes seem already familiar or simplistic. Season one’s Walking Distance is another where this rears its head, because it takes the lead character half the episode to begin to realise something that’s obvious to a modern viewer much sooner. It’s the unavoidable side effect of being more widely exposed to these kind of stories; of being a more experienced and savvy viewer than people would’ve had the chance to be in 1959. So, any merits have to be found beyond the basic concept and/or twist to make it worthwhile viewing today, and in this case it’s a simple but effective overall message: you can’t go home again, even though you’ll wish to, but that’s ok. It’s a theme I have great fondness for (it’s intensely melancholic, a feeling I always value), so the episode still has its rewards.

    Also from season one is Time Enough at Last, one of the series’ best-known episodes, but famous entirely for its ironic ending — something else that makes you worry it’ll be a pointless viewing exercise now, as you just wait for that final moment to come along. In fact, there’s slightly more to the episode than just a note of cosmic irony. And if you’re fortunate enough not to know the twist, even better — just watch it unencumbered and enjoy it all the more. One with a twist I didn’t know was season two’s Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? It has a little bit of the paranoia of The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, but plays more like a murder mystery, with a group of suspects gathered in a remote location. It doesn’t seem to quite know where to go with its own story after the setup, so kind of abandons it (the police just let everyone go!), but then it does have a couple of fun twists in the tail.

    Nightmare at 20,000 FeetFinally for now, two episodes that were remade in the 1983 film. Season three’s It’s a Good Life suggests that the worst monster imaginable is a six-year-old boy with unlimited power. Yeah, I buy that. This inspired my least-favourite segment of the film, but the original is so much better — more genuinely terrifying, whereas Joe Dante’s remake was just freakish and bizarre. Lastly, perhaps the series’ most famous episode of all (even though it didn’t come until the final season): Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. This is the one with William Shatner as a nervous airplane passenger who thinks he sees a gremlin on the wing. It’s written by Richard Matheson and directed by Richard Donner — you don’t get much higher calibre than that. It really is a perfect half-hour of TV, precisely paced and performed, keeping you riveted for every second, and unsure about whether Bob’s mind is fractured or the whole flight is in very real danger. The realisation of the gremlin is hokey, but other than that this is superb.

    To close, one general observation about all the episodes I’ve watched: Rod Serling is an absolutely fantastic host. When they’re on form (which they usually are), his opening and closing monologues are absolute magic. I don’t envy any other host the challenge of having to live up to him.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Line of Duty series 5This month, I have mostly been missing the new series of Line of Duty, BBC One’s ever-twisty police corruption drama. Given that it’s been trending on Twitter every week, it’s a wonder I’ve not had it spoiled… yet. It’s now two-thirds of the way through, so I’ll watch it intensively once it’s over. I’d promise a review next month, but last month I said that about Hanna and I’ve yet to make time for that. Maybe they’ll both be here next month. Also: Ghosts, the new comedy from the cast behind Horrible Histories and Yonderland, which looks promising but, again, is a couple of episodes in and I’ve yet to start.

    Next month… the Battle of Winterfell.

    The Hoopleheaded Monthly Review of March 2019

    I’ve watched about 37 hours’ worth of Deadwood and its special features this month, so you’ll excuse the colloquialism in the title. (I nearly called this the “Cocksucking Monthly Review”, but that seemed like it might lead to some confusion amongst anyone who just saw the post’s title.) But while the acclaimed TV Western feels like it’s dominated my viewing these past few weeks, I’ve also found plenty of time for films, as we shall see…


    #29 Swimming with Men (2018)
    #30 Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)
    #31 Bruce Almighty (2003)
    #32 Isle of Dogs (2018)
    #33 Life is Beautiful (1997), aka La vita è bella
    #34 Mandy (2018)
    #35 Skyscraper 3D (2018)
    #36 Free Solo (2018)
    #37 Shaft (2000)
    #38 Holmes & Watson (2018)
    #39 Triple Frontier (2019)
    #39a Deadpool 2: Super Duper $@%!#& Cut (2018)
    #40 The Italian Job (1969)
    #41 Downsizing (2017)
    #42 Samaritan Zatoichi (1968), aka Zatôichi kenka-daiko
    #43 Brigsby Bear (2017)
    #44 Upgrade (2018)
    #45 You Were Never Really Here (2017)
    #46 Starship Troopers (1997)
    #47 Escape from New York (1981)
    #48 The Highwaymen (2019)
    #48a Paperman 3D (2012)
    #49 Waltz with Bashir (2008), aka Vals Im Bashir
    Isle of Dogs

    Mandy

    Brigsby Bear

    .


    • So, I watched 21 brand-new feature films in March.
    • Add in that alternate cut of Deadpool 2 and five rewatches (see below) and you’ve got… a lotta movies. (I really ought to start keeping track of monthly overall totals for statistical purposes such as this.)
    • As for things I do keep track of, it ticked many boxes. For starters, it’s only the 17th month (out of 147) with 20+ films. It’s also the fourth March in a row to reach that figure, which is a record — no other month has reached 20+ more than twice ever, never mind in a row.
    • As for averages, it beats or equals all of ’em: the average for March (previously 13.8, now 14.4), for 2019 to date (previously 14, now 16.3), and for the last 12 months (which was and remains 21.1).
    • Just about the only achievement it doesn’t have is reaching #50 — I was there by this time in 2016 and 2018. Still, 2019 is likely to tie with 2017 for third place, and that’s nothing to be sniffed at.
    • This month’s Blindspot film: Paul Verhoeven’s satirical sci-fi, Starship Troopers, which I didn’t enjoy as much as I’d expected.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film: anti-war foreign language Oscar winner Life is Beautiful, which sits high on lists like the IMDb Top 250, but which I didn’t think was that good. Not the most successful month for these two projects, then.
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched just Upgrade, Isle of Dogs, and The Matrix (see Rewatchathon).



    The 46th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    I remain amazed that I find the films of Wes Anderson to be wonderful and exciting rather than self-consciously quirky and consequently irritating, but there we go, it seems I love the guy’s work, and the same goes for his latest, Isle of Dogs. If you’ve not already got the pun, say the title out loud quickly. I was destined to love this film.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    An easy one this month, because Holmes & Watson is at least as terrible as you’ve no doubt heard. It’s almost impressively bad, in fact — like, if you set out to make an unfunny comedy, you’d struggle to beat this. More on that theme when I get round to reviewing it in full.

    Thing You Were Only Supposed to Blow Off of the Month
    The bloody doors!

    Black Private Dick That’s a Sex Machine to All the Chicks, That Would Risk His Neck For His Brother Man, That Won’t Cop Out When There’s Danger All About of the Month
    Shaft!

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    In many respects the winner this month was last month’s TV review. It was up for less than 48 hours in February, meaning it received most of its hits so far in March… and it received a lot of hits: it was my most-read single post of the month by a factor of three. But that’s not the way the cookie crumbles: it was posted last month, so it ain’t eligible. From this month’s crop, we can (almost-)always rely on a new Netflix release to produce the goods, and for March that came in the shape of Triple Frontier. (The Highwaymen came a definitive second, despite my review having been online for only 32 hours.)



    After falling slightly short last month, March gets this back exactly on track.

    #8 The Matrix (1999)
    #9 Crocodile Dundee (1986)
    #10 Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
    #11 The Italian Job (2003)
    #12 Wreck-It Ralph 3D (2012)

    The Matrix turned 20 yesterday. It seems so weird that it was originally a March release. I mean, nowadays we get blockbusters year-round, but back in the ’90s it was still summer that saw most of the big crowdpleasers hit the big screen. Anyway, the anniversary is not why I rewatched it — I’ve been meaning to for years (I haven’t seen it in over a decade), and the 4K trilogy box set was one of my first purchases on the format. It looks great, of course. I meant to rewatch the sequels too (I know some people like to pretend they don’t even exist, but I’m always curious to reevaluate), but simply didn’t get round to them. Hopefully next month.

    Of course, I did find time for other rewatches. Crocodile Dundee and Four Weddings were both films I’ve not seen since the early/mid ’90s, and both held up better than I expected. The former, in particular, I expected little of when viewed today — I imagined it was an of-its-time blockbuster that might yield some nostalgia value at best, but it actually remains quite sharp, in its way, with a fish-out-of-water premise that hasn’t aged badly. Four Weddings feels like it would’ve endured better, for some reason (maybe just because it had a more lasting impact), but it is still a quarter of a century old and so I feared it might feel past it. In fact, I think it’s almost underrated, a very funny but also emotional and truthful film.

    The 2003 Italian Job I watched purely because I finally got round to the original (see #40 of the main list) and fancied giving the remake another whirl afterwards. The original is so gloriously ’60s — irreverent, mischievous, anarchic — but I do enjoy the ’00s blockbuster slickness of this remake too. It’s no classic, but it’s solid fun. Also: good golly, it’s 16 years old! If they ever did get round to making the long-mooted sequel, it’d count as a revival/reunion at this point.

    Finally, Wreck-It Ralph, rewatched in 3D ahead of the sequel hitting UK disc today. Said sequel has no 3D disc release anywhere in the world, which has pissed me right off (at least with Spider-Verse’s UK & US 3D no-show I had a raft of import options), especially as I didn’t particularly care for the original and have heard the sequel is weaker, so was looking forward to the 3D as a way to elevate my enjoyment. Ho hum. That said, I actually enjoyed the first one more this time round. I still feel like there’s something slightly off about it — the story’s a bit warmed-over, and the overall concept and style doesn’t really fit as a Disney canon movie, for me. The 3D is as spot-on as you’d expect, at least.


    This month’s biggest miss is surely Captain Marvel, the latest superhero mega-hit from… well, you can guess who. Don’t worry, I’m not one of those dickheads who attempted to boycott the film (and failed miserably — it’s been a ginormous financial success), I’ve just been too busy to find time to get to the cinema. I guess I’ll have to try soon though, because I intend to see Avengers: Endgame when it comes out and I imagine I should see Captain Marvel first.

    At home, my most recent disc purchase I’ve not got round to is Creed II. It only came out here last Monday and I was away most of the week, so I’m sure I’ll get to it soon. Other recent new releases include newly-animated ’60s Doctor Who serial The Macra Terror (not a film, but it should’ve been in this month’s TV review) and Jackie Chan classic Wheels on Meals. I also bought a whole load of titles via various sales and discounts, some of which are punts on movies that get mixed or poor reviews (Hackers, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Everest, the latter two in 3D), others that are Rewatchathon candidates (L.A. Confidential, Contact, Game Night), and one film which continues to baffle my memory, because I should know if I’ve seen it or not but I just can’t remember (that’d be E.T., which I now own in 4K).

    I’ve got a rental of Searching that I need to get to in the next couple of days, and I also really need to pay attention to the films sat on my V+ box — for reasons I might get into next month, I’ll be having to get rid of it sometime in the next few weeks, and I’ve still got 29 films recorded on there. There’s no way I’ll ever get through all of them, so I’ll have to prioritise somehow. Possible highlights (depending on what you define as a highlight) include Berberian Sound Studio, The Eyes of Orson Welles, The Help, Holy Motors, A Little Princess, The Last King of Scotland, Modesty Blaise, Tangerine, and To Have and Have Not. Yes, it’s a random ol’ grab bag — but whenever isn’t that an apt description of my viewing choices?


    We’re in the endgame now.

    The Past Month on TV #44

    Another later-than-usual TV review (originally these were meant to be on the third Thursday every month), which is simply because I didn’t have much to write about. Even still, it’s a less packed one that usual, with little more than a couple of seasons of Deadwood and a couple of episodes of The Twilight Zone to cover. Still, at least that’s some high-quality viewing.

    Deadwood  Seasons 1-2
    Deadwood season 2One of the early touchstones of the “peak TV” era we’re now right in the midst of, Deadwood is a kind of revisionist Western — revisionist in that it treats the West not as a time of myths and legends, as most movies still do, but as a real historical period like any other, populated by realistic people (more or less — I’ll come to that). The titular town began as a camp in Native American territory, established by gold prospectors. When they found success, more gold hunters followed, plus all the amenities they might require: supplies, tools, food, gambling, whores… Plus, the town was outside the jurisdiction of most law enforcement, thereby attracting a different class of person again. Naturally, illicit activity followed. At one point Deadwood averaged a murder a day — and those are just the ones that were recorded.

    It’s a rich place to set a drama, then, especially when you learn how quickly the place changed: although it started as just camp for prospectors, within only a couple of years it had telephones, before major cities like San Francisco, and was eventually consumed into the US proper. Creator David Milch had wanted to tell a story about how society establishes and organises itself set in ancient Rome, but HBO already had Rome in the works (set in an entirely different part of that empire’s history, but the general milieu was similar enough), so he had a rethink and Deadwood was born. It seems at least as fitting a place to present that theme.

    If that sounds like it’d be some heavy treatise, that’s certainly not how Deadwood plays out. It thrives on a human scale, with a large ensemble cast of characters to love and hate, sometimes within the same figure. Yet despite the sheer volume of people on screen, each one is well drawn, believable and relatable. It’s a fantastic feat of both writing and acting. There are standout performances, sure — Ian McShane as saloon owner and Machiavellian plotter Al Swearengen attracted the most attention at the time, and indeed if you had to pick just one he’s definitely the greatest character and performance here; but there are likely a dozen others who, in almost any other show, would overshadow the rest of the cast.

    Arguing and alcoholThey’re aided by the extraordinary storytelling. It’s often said to be Shakespearean, but that’s not an empty epithet. The dialogue may be littered with expletives (not as shocking today as it was back in 2004, but still not for the faint of heart) and tailored for the understanding of modern ears, but there are still speeches and exchanges that you could put anonymously alongside writings of the Bard and laypeople would struggle to identify which was which. It’s a structural thing, too — I mean, there are characters who deliver soliloquies! How often do you see genuine soliloquies outside of classical theatre? Plus there’s the way that, again, it’s using personal conflicts to touch on bigger themes and points about human nature and society.

    Although it’s based on a real time and place, Deadwood has a wavering attention to historical detail. Many of the characters are named after real people, both relatively unknown (Swearengen, Seth Bullock, Sol Star, E.B. Farnum) and famous from tales of the West (Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane), and sometimes it depicts genuine events from their lives, but only really when it suits the stories Milch wants to tell. Other characters are amalgamations of real-life individuals, or else are archetypes designed to show another facet of life. Alma Garrett, for example, a rich society woman who’s ended up in the camp due to her new husband’s whims, is used to portray the difficulties women faced in this era. But, again, the show does this by making her a believable character with her own storyline, not by contriving to give us a lecture.

    Of these initial two seasons, for my money the first is superior. It took me an episode or two to get back into the show’s unique rhythms (in particular, the way it’s shot looked suddenly very dated — a bit like how TV used to be done, a marked contrast to the cinematic visuals we’re used to today), but once the ball’s rolling it’s a thoroughly engrossing set of narratives. Indeed, it’s remarkable how much plot it packs into an episode, without ever feeling rushed or like it’s underserving characters. That’s another contrast to the way premium TV has gone since, where you have to watch a whole season to get a whole story.

    Sisters are doing it for themselves... with the help of menSeason two is a little more like the latter, and suffers for it. A major death about two-thirds of the way through comes to overshadow the rest of the season; while it doesn’t completely stall it, things begin to take longer to get anywhere. There’s also an early plot in season two designed to ‘depower’ Swearengen — he’d become such a dominating force in season one, Milch felt it necessary to take some of that away, if only for a while. A justifiable aim, but taking him out of play due to incapacity and recovery makes parts of the second season somewhat less fun. There’s a lot of entertainment value in Al’s scheming and swearing.

    The real problem with Deadwood, however, was that it was so short-lived. This is the kind of show that a network would never dream of cancelling today — artistically top-draw and critically acclaimed with it. I have no idea what viewing figures were like, but I remember it being well-discussed at the time, so I can’t imagine they were bad. But apparently there was some kind of dispute between the network and the production company about how much they’d pay for the show, and all that fell through after just three seasons. More on how the show does or doesn’t prematurely wrap-up next month, but it was definitely cancelled without notice, so I can’t imagine it’s too neat an ending. At least now we’re getting a sequel movie to put a proper capstone on it.

    The Twilight Zone  ‘Best Of’
    The Twilight ZoneUntil a couple of years ago, my experience of The Twilight Zone was limited to the Tower of Terror ride at various Disney theme parks (and recognising the theme that everyone knows, of course). Then in 2017 I watched the anthology film by Spielberg and co, which is good but still not the original. Well, with the new Jordan Peele-fronted revival on the way tomorrow (in the US, at least — no UK broadcaster or streamer has been announced still), Screen Crush ran an article ranking all 156 episodes of the original 1959-64 series. There are probably many such articles out there, but this is the one I saw, and, as I’ve long meant to watch some of the series, what better excuse to cherrypick the best-regarded episodes (cross-referenced with IMDb user ratings) and start there?

    Well, I thought I’d have more episodes to discuss here, but I’ve only made time for two so far: the one Screen Crush picked as #1, and the one IMDb users rank as #1. Funnily enough, after watching these episodes I saw this article, in which new series execs Peele and Simon Kinberg recommend their favourites from the original series, a list which is also topped by this pair, so I guess these really are considered the best of the best.

    First up, Screen Crush’s pick: season one’s The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (ranked 5th on IMDb and cited by Kinberg), which presents a parable with a moral lesson about baseless paranoia that feels kinda obvious now. It may be that comes from endless imitation — the episode is 60 years old, after all. That said, it’s sadly a lesson plenty of people could still do with learning. So, the familiarity of the theme lets the episode down when viewed today, but it’s still a cleanly executed version of the story.

    Dopey aliensSecondly, IMDb user’s pick: season three’s To Serve Man (ranked 7th by Screen Crush and cited by Peele). This is, essentially, an entire half-hour story based around reaching a neat twist that’s staring you in the face the whole time, like a well-executed punchline on a dark joke. That’s the kind of thing The Twilight Zone is renowned for, so it feels very apposite as a “best ever episode”. That said, while the punchline attracts our focus, the story that gets us there does have some commentary about the nature of mankind. There’s no explanation for why the aliens spend most of the episode wearing such a dopey expression, though.

    Hopefully I’ll tick off some more best-of episodes of the original series next month, and maybe the much-anticipated new incarnation will make its way to UK screens too.

    Also watched…
  • Pointless The Good, the Bad and the Bloopers — How is this show ten years old? I don’t mean in terms of quality, but just time — how has it been a whole decade since it first aired? Where does time go?! (I wonder how many results there’d be if you searched this blog for that phrase…) I used to watch Pointless religiously, but then I decided there wasn’t enough time in my life to regularly watch a quiz show. I still think it’s a great format though, and this celebratory selection of outtakes from the last decade was surprisingly amusing.

    Things to Catch Up On
    HannaThis month, I have mostly been missing the back ends of the series I mentioned were starting last month, like Shetland and Baptiste. More recently, there’s Amazon’s TV remake of Hanna — I reviewed the first episode after its 24-hour preview last month, and the whole first season was just released on Friday. Expect a review next month, then.

    Next month… winter is here.

  • 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 beats 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?)