FilmBath Festival – Opening Night

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I’ve never been to a film festival before. The expense and organisation of travel and accommodation, battles for tickets and/or never-ending queues for entry, racing to dozens of screenings a day… it’s just not my thing. (I don’t know if major festivals are really like that, it’s just an impression I’ve picked up from attendees on social media, etc.)

But when there’s a film festival one stop on the train away from your house, well, you can’t say “no”, can you? (Doubly so when you work for said festival and get comp tickets…)

FilmBath Festival isn’t among your Sundances or your Canneses or your Venices or your Londons. Nor is it one of those festival that just specialises in one thing, like documentaries or shorts. There are no red carpets or world premieres; no overtired critics trying to review 5,000 films every day or websites setting up media centres to churn out slightly stilted YouTube interviews with cast and crew desperate to promote their movie. Instead, it’s a local festival giving local people a chance to see previews ahead of general release; films that have already been released but didn’t make it to one of Bath’s cinemas; and smaller, interesting movies that might be difficult to see at all outside a festival.

Yesterday’s opening night kicked off the festival with a double bill of the first of those, including an exciting late addition to the lineup — so late it didn’t even make the brochure. (Ooh, look at all the beautifully precise punctuation and spelling and whatnot in that brochure! What geniuses must have worked on such a thing!) I saw both films, and I’ll write full reviews nearer their wide releases, but for the time being…

The Report at FilmBath Festival

First up was The Report, an All the President’s Men-style thriller about the investigation into the CIA’s use of torture post-9/11. It’s written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, who’s probably best known for writing a handful of Steven Soderbergh movies, plus contributing to arguably the best Bourne movie and Daniel Craig’s final Bond film. At the centre of the story is Star Wars’s Adam Driver as Daniel J. Jones, the senate staffer tasked with combing through millions of pages of secret documents to find the truth. As if to highlight the significance of the story, there’s an all-star supporting cast, led by Annette Bening and Jon Hamm, plus Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney, Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Rhys, Corey Stoll, Ted Levine, Jennifer Morrison, and several other recognisable faces. It’s a methodical and gripping film, seemingly as dedicated to explaining the truth as is its protagonist. Imagine if we lived in a world where this was the R-rated war-related true story that became the year’s highest-grossing film at the US box office (as opposed to the one that was).

The Personal History of David Copperfield at FilmBath Festival

Next, that late addition: Armando Iannucci’s new adaptation of Charles Dickens’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. It’s got another all-star cast, headed by Dev Patel as the eponymous young man. Obviously such colourblind casting has provoked comment, and I guess some people won’t be able to get over that, but it doesn’t matter. Dickens’s novel is a thick tome, here condensed briskly into two hours, and there’s a lot more going on than the colour of people’s skin. Its whipcrack pace is both one of its greatest assets (it moves like the clappers) and its biggest drawbacks (it winds up feeling a bit too long). But it’s frequently riotously funny, and the namey cast are sublime, including (deep breath) Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Gwendoline Christie, Anna Maxwell Martin, Benedict Wong, Paul Whitehouse, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aneurin Barnard, plus many other faces you might recognise depending how much British TV you watch. Plus, its affection for the emotional power of the act of writing is sure to make it a favourite for many authors (and wannabes).

Two completely different films, then, but both very much in my wheelhouse — as I said, I’ll review them later, but I enjoyed them both immensely. An exceptionally strong opening to a festival that promises many more delights (Jojo frickin’ Rabbit!) to come.

FilmBath Festival continues until 17th November. For information about what’s screening and to buy tickets, look here. You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Letterboxd for timely updates about what I’m seeing.

The Fluctuant Monthly Review of October 2019

October was very nearly my weakest month in almost a decade (9½ years, to be precise), saved from that fate at literally the last minute, as the story of what may very well be 100 Films’ most fluctuant year continues…


#130a Fifteen (2018), aka Quince
#130b Cumulus (2018)
#130c Pleased to Eat You! (2019)
#130d Special Delivery (2018)
#130e Allan + Waspy (2019)
#131 Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans (2019)
#132 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part Two (2012)
#133 For Sama (2019)
#134 The Fear of God: 25 Years of “The Exorcist” (1998)


  • So, I watched four new feature films in October.
  • It was very nearly just three, until I watched that Mark Kermode Exorcist documentary (which was freshly added to BBC iPlayer for Halloween) late last night. And whether or not that counts as a film is debatable. (The one on iPlayer is an extended cut that Kermode calls the “festival cut” because it was only shown at film festivals, which I think means it’s a film, so it counts.)
  • As I said at the start, you’d have to go back 9½ years, to April 2010, to find another month with so few films.
  • But for four you only have to go back to June this year. Nonetheless, that means October is tied as the lowest-totalling month of 2019 (for now…)
  • Unsurprisingly, it’s not even close to any of the usual array of averages I mention, and so it brings them all down — taking October’s average from 14.0 to 13.2; the average for 2019 to date from 14.4 to 13.4; and the rolling average of the last 12 months from 15.4 to 14.4.
  • The run of shorts I watched at the start of the month almost doubles that tally for the year. It was a FilmBath thing, which also means there’ll be more next month.
  • Neither a Blindspot nor a WDYMYHS film this month, which leaves me with quite a few to catch up (seven in total) with just two months of the year left.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched only Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (see Rewatchathon).



The 53rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A film that, frankly, I might’ve overlooked were it not for most of the rest of the FilmBath office talking about how great it was, Channel 4’s hard-hitting war documentary For Sama.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
This is an even easier choice: of course it’s Breaking Dawn: Part Two.

Favourite Short Film of the Month
Sorry to recommend this when I don’t think it’s freely available to see anywhere, but Pleased to Eat You! is bloody brilliant. Look out for it. (If you’re in the area, FilmBath are screening it before Little Monsters.)

Most Disappointing Non-Appearance of the Month
Not meaning to spoil anything (it’s kinda shown in the trailer anyway), but the storyline of Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans involves amassing different iterations of the Titans from across the multiverse… but that doesn’t include the cast of the live-action version, Titans. Okay, it might’ve been hard to integrate them with the animation, plus they’d’ve had to actually get the cast together, but it still seemed like a missed opportunity.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Even though I’ve been posting a lot less recently, my number of monthly hits has stayed within the same range — but, over the past few months, the number of unique visitors has started dropping a lot. This month, it dropped to its lowest level since June 2017. Well, fair enough. But what I find weird is that the ups and downs of both views & visitors have always been in sync before, so I don’t know why they’ve started separating. Anyway, this is meant to be about this month’s posts. Despite going up just 38 hours before October ended, the winner is this month’s TV column.



Things aren’t looking any rosier down here. I should be at #41 by now, but instead all I’ve got is this…

#24 Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018)

My brief review (linked above) possibly doesn’t do justice to my feelings about this movie (i.e. I love it!) I mean, I didn’t even mention the guest voice cast, which has some superb cameos. Partly that’s to do with not ruining gags and surprises, I guess. Still, I feel I could’ve and should’ve done better on that one. I did include it on my best-of-year list, at least.


No cinema trips this month, so I’ve missed a bunch of big releases, not least the super-discourse-provoking Joker; the third attempt at Terminator 3, Dark Fate; the inevitable flop Gemini Man (and it was showing in 3D HFR near me too, which I’m never likely to have a chance to see it in again); and the second Shaun the Sheep movie, Farmageddon.

More big-screen misses resurfaced on disc this week, namely X-Men: Dark Phoenix (in 4K) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (in 3D). I also picked up a handful of Criterion titles in a Zoom sale (Do the Right Thing, The Magnificent Ambersons, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, and Panique); a selection of Asian movies (re)released by Arrow (Oldboy, with Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance) and Eureka (King Hu’s The Fate of Lee Khan and three films with Sammo Hung (Eastern Condors, The Magnificent Butcher, and The Iron-Fisted Monk); I finally managed to get a great deal on the Spider-Man Legacy 4K set (containing Sam Raimi’s trilogy and Marc Webb’s duology); and I ended the month with Arrow’s new release of An American Werewolf in London, which made me glad I never got round to upgrading from DVD to the previous BD. (Whew! That’s quite a lot, really, isn’t it?)

Finally, there were a few big name releases on streaming this month. Most discussed was probably Netflix’s Breaking Bad sequel, El Camino. Well, I’ve still not seen any of Breaking Bad, so it’ll be a long time before I watch that. Higher on my watch list are the new Steven Soderbergh, The Laundromat, and Eddie Murphy true-story comedy Dolemite is My Name, which looks like a lot of fun. There was also In the Tall Grass, which I’ve heard mixed things about. Amazon had no brand-new additions to equal that lineup, but I did spot a few archive adds of interest, including Robin Williams sci-fi thriller The Final Cut, arthouse classic La Dolce Vita, and Liam Neeson’s latest revenge thriller Cold Pursuit.


FilmBath Festival should guarantee a tally over ten films, as the rollercoaster of my 2019 monthly totals continues.

The Past Months on TV #51

When I mentioned in September’s monthly review that I hadn’t posted a TV column that month, I was intending to get one up within a few days. As it turned out, for various fundamentally unimportant reasons, it’s taken until now — so, really, this one covers two months.

Much like my film viewing, my TV watching hasn’t been as prolific as normal, including some regulars falling by the wayside (no Twilight Zone again). But there are still a few things worth talking about.

Stranger Things 3
Stranger Things 3On what you might unkindly call a superficial level, the third season of Netflix’s signature series was thoroughly entertaining — it’s frequently funny and exciting, with cool moments aplenty (especially in the last couple of episodes), and many enjoyable callbacks to both ’80s pop culture and within the show itself. But dig any deeper and it begins to seem less surefooted, with what felt to me like muddled themes and character arcs, and a sense that the mythology was treading water. I don’t particularly object to the way any characters were treated, nor the destinations any of them reached (especially as a fourth season was inevitable, so wherever this run finished up was only ever temporary), but I didn’t feel like they were being guided anywhere with any real purpose. There’s something to be said for storylines like that, but when you’re trying to play some kind of redemption arc, or a coming-of-age tale about burgeoning independence (or whatever), I feel like you need to be a bit clearer-eyed. But hey, I still enjoyed it a lot — it’s a fun watch, and I imagine even more so if you have nostalgic memories of an ’80s childhood — I just think there’s still some room for finessing.

Watchmen  Season 1 Episode 1
WatchmenAlan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel Watchmen is a seminal work of the form — I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you about that at this point. Over the past decade it’s been adapted into a film, and both prequelised and sequelised (I think? I dunno, I stopped paying attention) in comic books, to varying degrees of success and controversy. So when HBO announced they were bringing it to TV, there was much trepidation. Early promises that it wasn’t a remake or prequel or sequel, but instead a ‘remix’, just added to the confusion.

Now it’s finally here, it’s clear that such bold reports were perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. Well, I say “clear” — I’ve only watched the first episode (two have aired, out of nine) so there’s plenty of room for things to change, but (so far at least) it seems to be definitively set in the world of the comic book (and not the movie, which made some significant modifications to the climax) and in 2019 (whereas the comic is set in the ’80s). So it is a sequel… but it’s not a direct sequel, because very few of the original characters have a part to play (yet, anyway). So it’s a new story set in the same world… albeit one where the events of the first story have had a massive impact, and some of the same thematic concerns are coming into play — not to mention a load of familiar iconography. Okay, maybe “remix” wasn’t a wholly terribly epithet after all.

Anyway, it’s early days, but there’s a lot of promise and potential here. Reading the original before viewing may not be essential, but it’s going to help a lot (besides which, it’s a damn good book). And if you want to go even further down the rabbit hole, be sure to check out the tie-in Peteypedia website, which provides a lot of extra info to help bridge the gap between book and series.

Catherine the Great
Catherine the GreatHBO and Sky Atlantic have teamed up for this lavish four-parter about the life of the famous Russian ruler, conceived by and starring Helen Mirren. The big bucks those broadcasters are known for are all over the screen here — it looks suitable sumptuous, with grand locations that positively shine, especially in UHD. Unfortunately, nothing else about the production is up to scratch. The writing is thoroughly mediocre — it most reminded me of The Tudors, although that seemed to know it was a bit of trashy fun, whereas I think Catherine the Great wants to be taken very seriously. But the dialogue is uninspiring, the characters uninteresting and underdeveloped (we’re told the relationship between Catherine and Potemkin is some great love affair, but they strop around like moody, jealous teenagers), and the flat performances do nothing to elevate any of it — and despite her general acclaim, Mirren is probably the weakest of the lot. Pretty, then, but vacant.

Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes
Dad's Army: The Lost EpisodesThe BBC’s 1970s policy of junking programmes because they supposedly no longer had commercial value is a familiar topic for Doctor Who fans, who’ve spent decades hoping and hunting for copies of missing episodes. But it was an organisation-wide policy, so Who was far from the only show that suffered — Dad’s Army was another. It’s a perennially popular sitcom here (even today repeats land among the most-watched programmes of the week), so you can see why it made commercial sense to invest in recreations of the missing episodes — especially as there’s only three of them.

The pre-broadcast press and ads emphasised heavily that these were intended as a tribute (presumably because that attempt at a feature film revival from a couple of years ago went down so badly). The sense of affection for the original seeps off the screen, from the faithfully recreated set to the performances, which ably tread the fine line between flat impersonation and respectful imitation. By that I mean the cast were clearly trying to play the roles as they were originally performed, but without getting stuck in a rut of mere emulation, instead injecting a reasonable amount of their own interpretation of the characters.

So, taking the project as it was intended — as a loving salute to the original programme, which also plugs a gap in its record — The Lost Episodes should be classed as a success.

Also watched…
  • The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco Season 1 Episodes 1-4 — ITV’s cancelled period crime drama is revived in this US sequel/spin-off, because it was relatively popular on the other side of the pond. Unfortunately, this iteration does look and feel like cheap US network filler. It’s gently watchable enough, if you don’t mind that sort of thing.
  • Japan with Sue Perkins — The former Bake Off host pops over to Japan for a two-part exploration of modern cultural quirks and fads. Open-minded and consequently insightful, I feel like it could’ve been a longer series to dig in even deeper. Maybe a more indicative title, too — by getting so specific, it was hardly the overview/travelogue of Japan that you might’ve expected.
  • Monty Python Night — BBC Two marked the 50th anniversary of arguably the most influential comedy troupe ever with an evening of archive-derived programming. So, that was two repeats — of documentary Almost the Truth: The BBC Lawyer’s Cut and the first-ever episode of Flying Circus — and one new programme that was compiled from archive interview clips, Python at 50: Silly Talks and Holy Grails. If you missed it… it’s no longer on iPlayer because I’ve been so tardy in posting this column. Sorry.
  • World on Fire Series 1 Episodes 1-2 — Now, here’s a good idea: a returning series that follows multiple loosely-connected characters in multiple different countries as they make their way through World War 2. I’m not convinced by the execution so far (It feels remarkably small-scale for a premise that’s all about scope, and visually it looks a bit too “TV” for a major prime-time series in the present climate), but, eh, we’ll see.

    Next month… the golden compass leads us to the northern lights as His Dark Materials is readapted for TV.

  • Si vis pacem, para menstruum review Septembris MMXIX

    Crikey, is it really October already?! Where did September go?!

    Time always flies, and it certainly seems to have disappeared for me of late, making the past month a quiet-ish one for 100 Films. There were relatively few movies watched (though it was far from my worst month of the year) and even fewer reviews posted (including no TV column, for various reasons). Let’s take a more thorough look…

    (Before I begin, if you were wondering about the post’s title… well…)


    #123 The Red Shoes (1948)
    #124 Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler. Erster Teil: Der große Spieler. Ein Bild der Zeit. (1922), aka Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler. Part One: The Great Gambler. An Image of the Time.
    #125 Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler. Zweiter Teil: Inferno. Ein Spiel von Menschen unserer Zeit. (1922), aka Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler. Part Two: Inferno. A Game of People of Our Time.
    #126 Dollman (1991)
    #127 John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
    #127a Battle at Big Rock (2019)
    #128 Downton Abbey (2019)
    #129 Agatha and the Truth of Murder (2018)
    #130 Howards End (1992)
    The Red Shoes

    John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

    .


    • So, I watched eight new feature films in September.
    • That’s the third time this year I’ve not reached my long-standing goal of at least ten films per month.
    • Naturally, therefore, it doesn’t measure up to any averages — not for September (previously 12.3, now 11.9), not for 2019 to date (previously 15.25, now 14.4), not for the last 12 months (previously 16.3, now 15.4).
    • This month’s Blindspot film: silent epic Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler — both parts. Well, I’d counted both as a single entry in my Blindspot list (even though I’ve counted them as two films in my tally), so I always intended to ensure they both fell within the same month. In the end, I watched them in a single (very long) sitting.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Powell and Pressburger classic The Red Shoes. While I watched two films from Blindspot again (sort of), I’m still one behind on WDYMYHS.
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched… absolutely nothing. Oh dear.



    The 52nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    I watched a few well-regarded films this month that I too regarded well, but the most artistically accomplished of them all was surely The Red Shoes.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    There was nothing I disliked this month, but something has to bring up the rear. That dishonour goes to Agatha and the Truth of Murder, which is a passable Christie pastiche but somewhat marred by its low-budget TV-movie roots.

    Most Beautiful Film of the Month
    The Red Shoes has gorgeous Technicolor cinematography by a true master, Jack Cardiff; and John Wick: Chapter 3 went all out with its neon cityscapes and glass buildings, looking particularly resplendent in UHD; and Downton Abbey appeared to have been entirely shot at golden hour, with its glowing, nostalgic pictures… but of them all, I think I most appreciated the 4K restoration of Howards End. I didn’t even watch it in 4K, just 1080p on Netflix, but the richness of the colours still filtered down. One caveat, though: I watched it on my partner’s parents’ TV, which I’ve always felt errs somewhat too much towards reds. But even if that’s the case, it really paid off for here.

    Best Special Effect of the Month
    Battle at Big Rock boasted animatronic dinosaurs even on a TV budget (well, I suspect it wasn’t an average TV budget — probably more in the Game of Thrones ballpark on a per-minute basis), and John Wick must be littered with effects to make all those action scenes work (unless Keanu Reeves went around brutally slaughtering stuntmen), but I was most enamoured of a floating head in Dollman. It’s headline effects (making a real man doll-sized) are no great shakes, and the close-ups of the floating head were just closely-framed shots of a real person, but the wider shots employed a practical model head that was really rather good. Okay, the dinos were probably more effective overall, but I do miss the days when even low-budget efforts had decent practical props.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    It was a close run thing between the two new releases I watched this month, one a big-screen TV spin-off and the other a small-screen movie spin-off. In the end it was the latter, Jurassic World sequel bridger Battle at Big Rock, that emerged victorious.



    This is the best month for my Rewatchathon since May. That may not sound like much given the tallies for the last three months were zero, one, and zero, but… no, it really isn’t saying much: I only watched two. The chances of me reaching my goal of 50 this year are basically nonexistent. I don’t mean to be defeatist, but c’mon: to get there I’d need to average nine films per month for the rest of the year, and my average for the past four months is 0.75 films per month. S’not gonna happen, is it?

    Anyway, here’s the pair I (re)watched in September…

    #22 Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
    #23 Hannibal (2001)

    Some Letterboxd thoughts on each are linked to above.


    Naturally with lesser viewing comes more misses. The cinema release I’d most meant to get round to was widely-praised Brad Pitt-starring sci-fi Ad Astra, which I still might make time for. Much less well received was Rambo: Last Blood. The poor reviews killed any thoughts I had of making a cinema trip for it, but I’ll catch it somewhere someday. The same could be said for It: Chapter Two — not about the reviews, but about watching it later. I don’t bother with horror on the big screen, but I enjoyed the first one a lot so I’ll definitely catch up with the second half.

    In terms of brand-new releases on streaming, Netflix’s In the Shadow of the Moon caught my eye. I don’t really know what it is or if it’s any good, but I’ve seen it listed as a neo-noir sci-fi thriller, which would be right up my alley. They also released Between Two Ferns: The Movie this month. I’ve never watched the series, but I’ve heard it talked about, so maybe I’ll see what the fuss is. As for more older things that’ve now found their way to streaming, Netflix offered the Taron Egerton-starring Robin Hood, which obviously went down poorly but I’ll still give a chance because I do enjoy those kind of films; London Fields, which also received bad notices but sounded interesting; and The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, which I have no idea about the quality of but is a helluva title. Over on Amazon’s Prime Video, recent-release additions include last-awards-season contenders Vice, Stan & Ollie, and If Beale Street Could Talk, and last-awards-season one-time hopeful On the Basis of Sex. I also noticed Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet crop up there.

    The headline addition to my Blu-ray collection this month was the Apocalypse Now: Final Cut on UHD. I’m considering double-billing that with the theatrical cut, which I’ve never seen; the shorter version in 1080p and the new one in 4K, just to help emphasise the improvement for myself. Seems unlikely I’ll find the time for that, but we’ll see. I also picked up a few Indicator sale titles — namely, Age of Consent, Born of Fire, and Suddenly, Last Summer. From another sale, a few to be rewatches: an unexpected favourite from last year, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, plus 3D versions of Life of Pi and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (I need to rewatch that whole trilogy). Finally, not really a film (though I believe a cutdown version was theatrically released in some territories), but I got the Blu-ray of 1980 miniseries Shogun for a steal. I’m currently reading the book though, and as that is 1,200 pages it’s going to be a while before I even think about starting the nine-hour miniseries.


    Some people spend all of October watching horror movies. I never have the appetite to be so monophagous, but I expect some’ll make it into next month’s listing. For one thing, I’m due to finally finish the Twilight saga…

    Once Upon a Time … in August 2019

    After a couple of months that looked like a throwback to the 100 Films of six years ago (i.e. 2013, the last time I had two consecutive months with five films or fewer), August’s tally looks more like the blog’s past few years. I can thank Quentin Tarantino for that: as you may be aware (especially if you’ve been following my review roundups this month), in advance of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood he programmed a series of ten related movies — and I watched all of them, meaning he single-handedly pushed me back up over the ten-film threshold.

    More on all that in a moment. As always, we begin with the list of my viewing…


    #104 Dumbo (2019)
    #105 The Favourite (2018)
    #106 Model Shop (1969)
    #107 Getting Straight (1970)
    #108 Arizona Raiders (1965)
    #109 Gunman’s Walk (1958)
    #110 Road to Zanzibar (1941)
    #111 Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
    #112 Hammerhead (1968)
    #113 Cactus Flower (1969)
    #114 Easy Rider (1969)
    #115 The Wrecking Crew (1968)
    #116 Battle of the Coral Sea (1959)
    #117 Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
    #118 Zatoichi at Large (1972), aka Zatôichi goyôtabi
    #119 Viceroy’s House (2017)
    #120 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
    #121 Rififi (1955), aka Du rififi chez les hommes
    #122 Les diaboliques (1955), aka Diabolique
    Gunman's Walk

    Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

    Rififi

    .


    • So, I watched 19 new feature films in August.
    • That marks something of a return to normal after a low-totalling June and July. Although, as I said at the start, Quentin Tarantino is mainly to thank for that: if he hadn’t programmed that series of films, this month’s total would be down at nine. (Of course, if I hadn’t been watching those films then I might’ve watched others; but it certainly wouldn’t‘ve been as many.)
    • But 19 it is, and that makes it my best August in over a decade. In fact, you have to go right back to 2007, this blog’s first year, to find one with a higher total.
    • It also provides a boost to all my flagging stats, beating and increasing the averages for August (previously 11.9, now 12.5), 2019 to date (previously 14.7, now 15.25), and the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 15.9, now 16.3).
    • This month’s viewing also included the 2,000th film listed on my reviews index… but as I haven’t posted 159 of those yet (egads!), I’m actually a long way off genuinely celebrating 2,000 reviews.
    • This month’s Blindspot films were a double-bill of exceptional French crime thrillers from 1955, Rififi and Les diaboliques. Watching two means I’ve caught up after missing one in June
    • …but I chose to watch another Blindspot at the expense of this month’s WDYMYHS film, so now I’m behind on that instead. Give with one hand, take away with the other, etc.
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched Dumbo (which was also an April failure), and that was it.



    The 51st Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    Quite a few really good films this month, some of them expected (The Favourite, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), others very pleasant surprises (Gunman’s Walk, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), but my pick of the bunch is French crime thriller Rififi. The famous half-hour dialogue-free heist scene lives up to its hype, but the rest of the movie is no slouch either.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    While I was watching and writing about that Tarantino marathon, it all felt a bit underwhelming. Reconsidered with hindsight, I did like most of what he scheduled, but it suffered overall because the lows were pretty darn low while the highs weren’t that high. One was my clear least-favourite, however, and that was The Wrecking Crew. As I wrote in my review, “this is the kind of mediocre imitation that gives you a new appreciation for even the worst Bond movies.”

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    It’s Tarantino again! Well, sort of. The four roundups I posted of his movie marathon topped this chart for most of the month, with the opening double-bill and the spy-fi selection duking it out for first place (the former won that local derby, by just one view). But such tussles were rendered meaningless when my 50th TV column came storming in (powered, no doubt, by its review of Peaky Blinders season four) to dominate all other new posts. (Though, in terms of all posts, it didn’t even crack the top 20.)



    Ohhh dear — I didn’t rewatch any films again. Having also watched none in June, and only one in July, that makes my average for the last quarter of the year 0.3 when it should be 4.2. Totted up, I’m 12 films behind schedule. There’s still four months of the year left, but if I make my goal of 50 I’ll be surprised — I’ll need to up that average from 0.3 to 7.3, a dizzying 24-fold increase.


    Despite redoubling my viewing efforts, I still had plenty of misses this month. On the big screen, major titles included actioners Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Show (to use its marginally-shortened UK title) and Angel Has Fallen. Also of note was a theatrical re-release of Apocalypse Now. Well, as it was the new “Final Cut”, you could argue it’s not technically a re-release. It’s also now out on disc in the US, and it was due in the UK too, but late in the day it was pushed back to next month. Hey-ho.

    Talking of discs, I picked up quite a few. New releases included Shazam (previously mentioned in April’s failures) and Indicator’s Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount set, which duplicates the six films contained in Criterion’s similar set from 2018, as well as Avengers: Endgame in 3D (which is out tomorrow but turned up yesterday). Plus, thanks to sales and/or discounts, I’ve now added Black Book, Black Hawk Down (in 4K), The Cooler, and, erm, Iron Sky: The Coming Race to my kevyip. Also, just dropping in at the last minute thanks to a brief price drop on Amazon Italy, the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films in HD — so that’s another 14 movies. Sometimes I feel I need more restraint (though I’ve had my eye on that Holmes set for ages. Waiting has its benefits).

    In fact, actually, there were several title of interest that made it to disc but I didn’t purchase: the new Hellboy (forgot to mention that whenever it was in cinemas!); the new Laika, Missing Link; the latest direct-to-video DC animation, Batman: Hush; and a rather spiffy new edition of In Bruges, which is limited and so I’m itching with worry that it’ll sell out before I allocate funds for it. But it’s looking like an expensive few months to come, with several big, limited, expensive box sets on my radar…

    Finally, streaming offered nothing new in the movie department, with the possible exception of The Crystal Calls — the making-of for Netflix’s new Dark Crystal TV series, but it’s feature length and listed as a “Netflix Film”, so why shouldn’t it count as a ‘proper’ movie? In terms of non-exclusive stuff coming onto the streamers, added to my Netflix radar were mother!, 3 Idiots (a Bollywood film that’s on the IMDb Top 250), and Shakespeare in Love (one of only two Best Picture winners from the last 30 years that I’ve not seen), while Amazon offered Lars von Trier’s latest, The House That Jack Built, and a film more noteworthy for its troubled production history than anything else (because apparently it’s not very good) Tulip Fever.

    That’s 39 films I’ve just listed, vs the 19 I actually watched. Really, there’s no hope…


    Well, I’m away (again!) for the first week, so it’s going to be a slow start. But maybe later I’ll manage to get both Blindspot and WDYMYHS back on track at the same time. That’d be nice.

    The Past Month on TV #50

    Last month, I said this month would hopefully feature Stranger Things 3, Veronica Mars season 4, and The Boys season 1. It doesn’t. Not any of them. But I’m not short of other things to write about…

    Years and Years
    Years and YearsThe writer most popularly known for reviving Doctor Who, Russell T Davies, returns to science fiction for the first time in almost a decade with this acclaimed miniseries. This is a very different kind of sci-fi, though — no space invaders or malicious AI or mad scientists here. No, this story begins in 2019 as we know it and then moves across the next 15 years to explore just where we’re headed, in a realistic and grounded way. It focuses on a normal family from Manchester — four siblings, their grandmother, and assorted spouses and children — and how the changes in society and technology affect them. It’s a story of the ordinary people; the folks who don’t shape history, history happens around and to them.

    Cannily, it dodges the Brexit bullet — there are implications it went ahead, but it doesn’t have any bearing on the story: these big changes are happening everywhere anyway, whether Britain leaves the EU or not. What it is aware of is how much society and technology are now intertwined. In the first episode, a teenager comes out to her parents as trans — not trans gender, but transhuman. She wants to ditch the limitations of flesh and live forever as data. Some people will scoff at that, but the way it’s presented and plays out over the next five episodes is highly plausible. RTD tackles a whole host of societal issues in a similar way — immigration, the gig economy, nationalism, etc — all mixed together in a way that reflects real life. After all, we’re never just dealing with or worried about one thing at a time, especially nowadays.

    As someone who grew up in the ’90s and ’00s, learning about the Cold War as an historical event, I sometimes wondered how people lived their day-to-day lives with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Except that’s not what it was actually like, was it? It may’ve been there, in the background, ebbing and spiking depending on the political factors of the day, but people just got on with their everyday lives while that played out on the news. It’s the same nowadays, isn’t it? There’s so much crap going on in the world, and most of it we just see on the news — unless it happens to butt into our own lives for whatever reason. And Years and Years is that same thing, but projected into future events; and not fantastical things, like a mission to Mars or an AI breakthrough, but a very plausible extrapolation of where we’re headed.

    Personally, I thought it was a work of borderline genius. RTD has always had a way with characters — of quickly shading in believable individuals, their families and lives; of writing scenes that sing with dialogue and interactions that seem plucked straight from real life — and here that’s married with an imaginative vision of the near future, the two working in harmony to create a drama that’s also a warning about what we’re getting ourselves into… although it’s also an admonishment, showing us what we’ve got ourselves into and wondering if it’s too late to stop it. But there’s a dash of hope in there, too; just a sliver of “maybe it’ll be mostly OK in the end.” Fingers crossed.

    Peaky Blinders  Series 4
    Peaky Blinders series 4Birmingham’s premier gangsters return with a storyline that forces them to reckon with their past actions. So it’s unfortunate that this is a show that can’t be doing with recaps at the start of episodes. I spent most of the first instalment trying to remember the events of previous series and how they’d led to where things were, which is an unwelcome distraction that could be easily solved with a simple “previously on” at the opening. I don’t know why Netflix hate them so much (well, I do — it’s the assumption you’ll just binge-watch everything, and if you don’t then they want you to feel you have to; and we’re all just buying into what we’re told to do, which is half the problem (funnily enough, that’s a lot of what Years & Years was all about…)

    Anyway, once things get up and running, and you can get your head around what’s going on enough to be going on with, this is another thrilling story of ’20s criminality. Adrien Brody pops in as a series-long guest star, a Mafia enforcer from New York who has a vendetta against the Blinders because they killed his dad, and now he’s brought his American muscle to wipe them out. With bigger forces out to gobble them up, the Blinders must rely once again on a mix of their wits and straightforward firepower. The show itself is the same, blending together tricksy plotting (Tommy Shelby may always have a plan, but we’re not always privy to it until after the fact) and impressively staged action scenes (there’s an extended shoot-out at the start of episode five that must’ve eaten up a lot of the budget; and if it didn’t, they’ve done a good job making it look like it did). In fact, the series as a whole looks stunning — style drips off the screen, whether it be the slow-mo hero walks or the pulsating rock soundtrack.

    For my money, the plot was a little smaller-scale than previous seasons, despite involving ever-bigger outside forces, which made it feel almost like an extended movie rather than a dense season of television. But don’t take that criticism too much to heart — previous seasons may’ve been even better in my personal estimation, but this is still top-drawer drama.

    Unforgotten  Series 3
    Unforgotten series 3Where the other shows reviewed this month are big, brassy productions told on a mythic scale, Unforgotten is almost the opposite, and yet it tackles themes no less grand. But it’s a quiet, understated drama, as London detectives Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar (along with their team) investigate a cold-case murder, in the process having to tackle the fallout that time has wrought on the victims left behind.

    This time, the skeleton of a teenage girl is found under a motorway, and it turns out to be a girl who disappeared on December 31st, 1999, and was a huge story at the time, which naturally leaves our little team under intense media scrutiny. (It’s somewhat amusing seeing this ITV-produced show get to use real ITV News presenters and graphics while the hero characters are slagging off the attitudes and methods of the media.) Unforgotten has the usual murder mystery array of suspects for us to theorise about, but what it also does well is portray the terrible sadness of such crimes. Reveals in the final episode push the storyline in a slightly different direction which allow it to pull focus in a different direction, too, although I’m not sure it really has the time or space to dig into that aspect.

    Like Peaky Blinders, I don’t think this was the very best series of the programme (series two was harder hitting and even more emotionally complex), but it’s still more or less on form. It wears its heart on its sleeve, trying to treat these victims and suspects not just as pawns in an elaborate guessing game, but as real people whose lives have been torn apart. That makes it one of the better cop shows on TV, I think.

    Also watched…
  • Agatha Raisin Series 2 Episodes 1-3 — Sky 1’s murder mystery series (which they cancelled but an American outfit revived and now they just buy in) is the very definition of cosy crime, though with enough humour that it plays more like a rom-com than a crime drama. Also, looks surprisingly gorgeous in UHD. Happily, there’s a third lot in production.
  • Beecham House Series 1 Episodes 4-6 — Oh yes, I stuck with this to the end. (Please let this be the end.)
  • Grantchester Series 4 Episodes 5-6 — Been catching up with this in bits and pieces, but just realised I’ve not mentioned it until now. James Norton’s gone off to bigger things (Joss Whedon’s new show, to be precise), so they’ve got a new co-lead, who’s fine. This season attempted an arc subplot with contemporary social relevance (a woman being harassed by a coworker), which went for the happy modern-ish ending rather than what I expect was the full misery of actually suffering that kind of thing in the 1950s.
  • Lucifer Season 3 Episodes 1-3 — Since I last watched it Lucifer has been cancelled, revived, recommissioned, and extended (Netflix ordered a ten-episode final season but, after fan outcry, added a further six), so I thought it was about time I got on with it. It’s a fun show, that I’ll probably be watching in drabs and drabs for a while. (See my reviews of seasons one and two, which broadly apply to season three as well.)
  • Susan Calman’s Fringe Benefits Series 1 — A mix of chat and standup from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Calman’s an infectiously jolly host, and the chance to get an overview of different acts, including ones you don’t see on TV as often, is nice. If anything, it’s a shame it’s only three 45-minute episodes — there’s so much going on at the Fringe, I expect they could do a half-hour every night and still not touch the sides.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Wu AssassinsThis month, I have mostly been missing Wu Assassins on Netflix, starring Iko “The Raid” Uwais. The trailers look perhaps a bit cheesy, but also promise regular doses of Uwais’ incredible combat skills, so that’ll do me. Elsewhere, Preacher has embarked on its fourth and final season. Considering I’ve not seen most of season two and none of season three, that’s a bigger catchup project. And talking of stuff I’ve not seen, I never got round to Mindhunter season one, even though David Fincher directed some of it, and now there’s a second season, which he’s also partly directed. Considering it’s been five years since his last movie, I do kinda need that Fincher fix…

    Next month… take your pick for what I’ll’ve watched and what I’ll’ve missed out of Peaky Blinders season 5 (starts tonight), Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes (starts tonight), Sanditon (starts tonight), The Great British Bake Off (starts on Tuesday), Carnival Row (out on Friday), and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (out on Friday). Bear in mind: I’ve only just finished one season of Peaky Blinders, and I didn’t much like The Dark Crystal. (Why do I feel like that means it’ll be the only one of these I end up actually watching…)

  • The Eleventy-First Monthly Review of July 2019

    I’ve been writing 100 Films for 151 months now, but I only instituted these monthly progress reports in May 2010 — and that makes this the 111th one! I think that’s worthy of a Hobbity celebration…

    I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

    Coincidentally, it’s also the 50th month of these “new look” monthly updates (the ones with the funny titles and all the formal sections), which means it’s also the 50th iteration of my Arbie Awards. You can see how I’ve honoured that special occasion when you reach the relevant section.

    But before that, there’s this…


    #99 Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman (1971), aka Shin Zatôichi: Yabure! Tôjinken
    #100 The Killer (1989), aka Dip huet seung hung
    #101 Toy Story 4 (2019)
    #102 Sherlock Jr. (1924)
    #103 The Lion King (2019)
    The Killer
    .


    • So, I watched just five feature films in July.
    • That continues my new fewer-than-10-films-per-month streak. Once upon a time such numbers were my norm (from 2008-2013, 58% of months had 9 or fewer films), but for the past few years it, er, really wasn’t (in 2014-2018, 95% of months had 10 or more films).
    • My longest previous fewer-than-ten streak was 7 months, from June to December 2011. If 2019 continues the way it’s going, it could replicate that exactly. But, equally, a lot can change: at the end of July 2016 I was at #127 and went on to finish the year with 195, and in July 2017 I was at #107 and ended on 174; but July 2015 was lower than both of those, ending at #102, and I went on to reach 200. So while I’ll be very surprised if 2019 even comes close to last year’s 261, never say never.
    • In terms of averages, it’s distinctly less heartening. It takes the average for July down from 9.9 to 9.5, leaving it as the only month with an average lower than 10. It also brings the 2019-to-date average down from 16.3 to 14.7, and the rolling average of the last 12 months down from 17.8 to 15.9.
    • Of of the five films I did watch, one was #100 — later than I’d anticipated, because my underwhelming June tally didn’t get me there, but still the 3rd earliest #100 ever (behind 2018 (10th May) and 2016 (28th May), and ahead of 2017 (15th July)).
    • It was a double catch-up for last month, too: I missed my should-be-monthly Blindspot film in June, so made a selection from that list to be 2019’s illustrious #100. My pick was John Woo’s career-defining heroic bloodshot classic The Killer. Still holds up today, for my money. It’d be nice if we could get a quality Blu-ray release of it, though.
    • And this month’s WDYMYHS film was Buster Keaton’s slapstick classic Sherlock Jr. At 45 minutes, it’s just long enough to qualify as a feature rather than a short. As well as the comedy, it has madcap stunts Tom Cruise would be proud of, and technical effects that still hold up almost 100 years later.
    • Finally, from last month’s “failures” I watched only Toy Story 4. Well, one is better than none…



    The 50th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    It’s the 50th Arbie Awards! In honour of that milestone, I’m… not doing anything special whatsoever. So let’s get on with this:

    Favourite Film of the Month
    Not much to choose from, though I did really enjoy almost all of the limited selection of films I did watch. The winner, though, is an action movie… and also a comedy: Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr., which (as I said above) is not only very funny but also technically audacious and full of daredevil stunts.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    This is an easy pick. I didn’t hate it, but I was certainly left underwhelmed by Jon Favreau’s too-faithful live-action animated remake of animation The Lion King.

    Song That Should’ve Been Retitled of the Month
    Can You Feel the Love Tonight This Afternoon?

    Joke I Stole from Letterboxd of the Month
    See above + here.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    It was a relatively meagre month for new posts. Well, in fact, there were 10, and my average for the first six months of 2019 was 13, so maybe not so relatively low after all. Whatever, none of those new posts challenged archival ones for popularity: this month’s victor may’ve been a Netflix new release (outside the US) but it only came 39th overall. Perhaps Shaft isn’t the man after all.



    I didn’t rewatch a single film last month, which means I’ve got a mountain to climb to get to my goal of 50 rewatches this year — and July is barely helping…

    #21 Die Another Day (2002)

    To stay on target I should be on about #28 by this point. Oh dear. And the one I did watch was a fluke: I happened across it on TV the other day and ended up sucked in. So, okay, I didn’t really watch it — certainly not all of it — but I did see a fair bit of it; probably a comparable amount to when I caught Skyfall on TV last year, and I counted that, so here it is. I’m still intending to re-watch all of Bond properly at some point (or at least pick up where I left off, which was with OHMSS); but then I’ve been meaning to do that ever since the Bond 50 Blu-ray set came out in 2012…


    I made a couple of trips to the cinema this month, but I still missed some big titles — primarily, Spider-Man: Far from Home. There was also Richard Curtis/Danny Boyle/Beatles comedy Yesterday (which actually came out in June, but I didn’t mention it last month), and smaller releases (which therefore weren’t necessarily playing near me or at accessible times) like Midsommar and The Dead Don’t Die. (If you’re a US-based reader wondering why I haven’t mentioned Quentin Tarantino’s successful new film, it’s not out here for another two weeks.)

    Last month I noted that some cinema misses from February had now made it to disc, where I’d missed them again. That’s also true this month, with the release of Alita: Battle Angel. The same was true of Dumbo, though that was from my April failures — the fact it and Alita have now reached disc at about the same time shows something about the vagaries of release windows, I guess. Finally on disc, a rewatch candidate: Captain Marvel (not that I’ve posted a review from when I saw it in the cinema yet).

    The noisiest releases on streaming this month were TV series, but a couple of Amazon co-productions came to Prime Video: Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, and Beautiful Boy, with a BAFTA-nominated performance from Timothée Chalamet. As for Netflix, they offered doc The Great Hack, about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which is the kind of thing that’s destined to sit on my watch list for ever and a day. They also threw up some stuff I missed from last year in the form of Paul Feig’s black-comedy mystery A Simple Favour and acclaimed comedy-drama Blindspotting.


    So, in conclusion, July’s prospects were marred by my being away on holiday for almost half the month. Perhaps that means August will see things perk up again…

    The Past Month on TV #49

    I’ve only got a small selection of TV viewings to offer this month (check out the “things to catch up on” section for all the big stuff I’ve missed), but at least that means it can be headlined by a series that I hope gets the attention it deserves…

    Year of the Rabbit  Series 1
    Year of the RabbitRipper Street gets a comedic makeover in Channel 4’s recent comedy series, which stars Matt Berry (of Toast of London fame, and also recently seen starring in the series version of What We Do in the Shadows) as a Victorian detective by the name of Rabbit. He investigates murders and other nefarious goings-on amid the scum of the East End accompanied by a rookie posh-boy sidekick (Freddie Fox) and the force’s first female officer (Susan Wokoma).

    Rabbit juggles three things at once: being a comedy, being a case-of-the-week cop show (with basic storylines that would hold up in a genuine cop show), and also a conspiracy arc plot. That it pulls all three off (just about) with only c.25 minutes per episode is impressive. In that respect it reminded me a bit of BBC Two’s wonderful The Wrong Mans, which was definitely a comedy but also definitely a crime thriller. The style and tone of the humour is very different, mind: Wrong Mans was quite grounded, whereas this is kookier and borderline surreal, as you’d expect from Berry, really. By way of example: every episode features an aside of street urchins selling a different East End delicacy, like “twigs in a bun”. It’s also quite freewheeling: running gags are quickly established and just as quickly abandoned; other things that seemed like discardable bits come back later.

    The three leads are stars that ably carry the show. Berry’s talents are well documented (I guess to a lot of people he’s Toast, but I’ve never actually got round to that. I always remember him from one of his first roles, in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace). Fox’s family legacy may suggest he could play “posh boy” in his sleep, but a stint undercover as a Cockney geezer proves his range. Wokoma more than holds her own as the young woman determined to break into the police (her dad may be the boss, but he’s no help) and prove she’s as good as the guys. The recurring supporting cast are their equal, including Paul Kaye as a rival copper out to ruin Rabbit, Keeley Hawes as a scheming feminist, and, most memorably, David Dawson as a theatrically camp Joseph ‘Elephant Man’ Merrick (under a movie-quality prosthetic — the production values are no slouch either). There’s also blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos from Berry’s Shadows collaborators, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement.

    Rabbit wraps up its arc plot, but ends with a tantalising tease for a second series storyline. It’s not been recommissioned yet, but I’ve optimistically labelled this “series one” because the writers already have ideas for more and, well, I really want some more.

    The Twilight Zone  ‘Best Of’
    Shadow PlayHaving exhausted the top tens of both IMDb’s and ScreenCrush’s Twilight Zone episode rankings in my four previous “best of” selections, I’ve still only scratched the surface of the series: I’ve reviewed 16 episodes, which is 10% of the 156 that were produced. Now: the only reason I’ve been using ScreenCrush’s list is that I happened to see it on Twitter — it’s certainly not the only ranking of its kind. So after a bit of Googling for alternatives (which included rejecting BuzzFeed’s list because it was consistently illustrated with bloody big spoilers), I’ve decided to use Paste’s ranking to dictate which episodes I watch next. That’s partially because 50% of their top ten is episodes that weren’t in either IMDb’s or ScreenCrush’s, so that’s quite interesting. Indeed, their writer, Oktay Ege Kozak, has some very different opinions to ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer, as we’ll soon see…

    First, for reference, the episodes in Paste’s top ten that I’ve already reviewed are: Eye of the Beholder (Paste’s #1, IMDb’s #3, ScreenCrush’s #11); The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (Paste’s #2, IMDb’s #5, ScreenCrush’s #1); Time Enough at Last (Paste’s #3, IMDb’s #4, ScreenCrush’s #4); Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (Paste’s #5, IMDb’s #2, ScreenCrush’s #14); and The Hitch-Hiker (Paste’s #8, IMDb’s #21, ScreenCrush’s #6). Not a huge deal of disagreement there, but some of the gaps are about to get wild.

    Indeed, the second-biggest difference is up first: season two’s Shadow Play is right up in 4th on Paste’s list, but a whopping 98 places lower at 102nd on ScreenCrush (it’s 22nd on IMDb). It’s the story of a man sentenced to execution, who claims that they’re all living inside his dream and if he’s executed everyone else will cease to exist. Is he trying to plead insanity… or might he just be telling the truth? Paste are on the money here: this is a great little story, with Dennis Weaver as the condemned man driven to the brink by (he claims) being executed over and over in a never-ending nightmare; and, on the other side, the DA and court reporter struggle with the idea that he might be telling the truth, meaning they’re not people at all but mere figments in someone else’s dream. It’s a horror story of a nightmare and an existential musing all in one, with a strong vein of tension about what will happen in the end. Kozak praises it for pulling all that off, but Singer counters that “the premise is too convoluted [with] two ideas that would each work more effectively on their own.” I can see where he’s coming from, but I don’t wholly agree — if you disconnect the two ideas, they’d both need something to fill the resultant gap in order to function as narratives.

    Five Characters in Search of an ExitThere’s closer agreement about Paste’s 6th choice, season three’s Five Characters in Search of an Exit, which ranks 14th on IMDb and 32nd on ScreenCrush. Singer writes that “if you enjoy the movie Cube you have this episode written by Serling from a story by Marvin Petal to thank,” which immediately put it high on my must-see list because I love Cube. This has a similar premise: five mismatched strangers awaken in a featureless metal cylinder, each with no memory of who they are and how they got there. The top of their de facto prison is open — if they can just climb up there, maybe they can find answers. The result is both a mystery drama about just what’s going on, and something of a character study on dealing and coping with situations you can’t explain or change. Naturally, there’s a twist ending. In fact, at one point the characters, theorising about why and how and where they are, list a bunch of options that all sound like Twilight Zone endings. It’s quite a bold move, really; almost acknowledging the show’s MO, and casually discarding a bunch of potential conclusions in the process — and if one of them was your guess, well, the show’s just laughingly dismissed you before the halfway mark! Weirdly, though, I did manage to guess the twist pretty precisely from early on. I’m not sure how, really — blind luck, I think, because there’s nothing to tip its hand. Possibly it’s just experience: as with so many Twilight Zone twists, this was probably highly innovative and/or unusual back in the ‘60s, but has been imitated and copied (deliberately or otherwise) since. Still, as a mystery thriller, the episode is as good as any of the similar works that have been produced in its wake.

    The InvadersOne of the series’ more famous episodes is in 7th place for Paste (IMDb #28, ScreenCrush #58): The Invaders, starring Agnes Moorehead as the lone inhabitant of a remote shack, who must suddenly deal with hostile six-inch spacemen landing their saucer on her roof. It’s a near-silent drama, as Moorehead is terrorised by the miniature monsters and struggles to fend them off. And, obviously, there’s a twist. I don’t want to sound boastful, but, yeah, I saw it coming. I’ve said this many times now, but I really do suspect the series is a victim of its own success in this regard — it’s 60 years old and highly influential, so of course all the media a modern viewer has experienced leaves us ready to guess the outcomes. Actually, I bet it’d be a great show for kids — a formative experience; and, with less media exposure, the twists might retain the appropriate level of mind-blowing-ness. Anyway, at least The Invaders has more going for it than just the final reveal, with the woman vs the mini-spacemen playing like a tense horror movie. There’s a lot of praise for Moorehead’s performance, but I thought she was overacting somewhat in compensation for her lack of dialogue. In fairness, though, this was made for 1961 TV sets — with no speech to work with, the performance needed to be ‘big’ to come over on those tiny tellies. Unfortunately, it’s another mark against the episode when watched in HD on a modern setup.

    Two season one episodes round out Paste’s top ten, both of which are placed considerably higher than on ScreenCrush’s list. In 9th place is Perchance to Dream, which is ranked way down at 128th on ScreenCrush, and 87th on IMDb — both sizeable gaps, and in this case I side with the latter. It’s about a man with a weak heart who thinks his dreams are trying to kill him, only it’s somehow much more dull than that setup sounds. It doesn’t even have any great point or twist to cap it off. Kozak reckons this is a “haunting, cinematically captivating campfire story [that] never lets go of its meticulously built suspense until the wickedly unforgiving finale,” an opinion I don’t agree with a word of, sadly. Singer says that “while Conte’s character is terrified to fall asleep, the whole thing is a bit of snooze,” and that I do agree with.

    The LonelyFinally for now is The Lonely, which is ranked 10th on Paste (obv.) but only 105th on ScreenCrush (IMDb is much closer at 27th). Sorry to harp on about this, but here’s another episode that may’ve been great once but recent years have seen other films and TV series tackle similar themes in much greater depth, far surpassing the mere 20-odd minutes it’s afforded here. Indeed, this is the rarest of things in my experience: a Twilight Zone episode where 25 minutes isn’t enough to explore its concept. It’s about a man imprisoned in solitary confinement. His cell? An entire asteroid (filmed on location in Death Valley, which adds a magnificent grit and desolation to the visuals). He’s visited quarterly by a supply ship, and after a few years the captain takes pity on him and brings a robot woman to be his companion. It’s as good a setup as any, but the episode simply doesn’t have the time to dig into the questions and musings it throws up — though it’s not helped by wasting most of the first half on chatter between the prisoner and the captain, establishing their relationship more fully than the one between the prisoner and his robo-woman; a relationship the episode supposedly hinges on.

    So if there’s one Twilight Zone episode that begs to be remade and expanded upon, it’s this one. It’s even ripe for someone to add one of the series’ trademark ironic twists — I thought of two or three while watching, but the episode itself doesn’t have one, exactly (I mean, it kinda does, but it’s more a plot development than a final, cruel twist of the knife like the series’ best). But then again, does it need remaking when other storytellers have already taken up this episode’s theme and expounded on it better? This is a forerunner to the likes of Her and Ex Machina and Blade Runner 2049 and the Westworld TV series. You’ll note those are all very recent works (the eldest, Her, has yet to reach its 6th anniversary), which perhaps shows how far ahead of its time The Twilight Zone was. But their thoughtfulness also really shows up how little The Lonely actually has to say about its subject matter.

    Also watched…
  • Ghosts Series 1 Episodes 5-6 — Accidentally fell behind on this and only just finished it. My review of the first half of the series is here and still applies. Happily, it’s already been recommissioned for a second series.
  • How to Break into the Elite — This sounds like a bit of a “get rich quick” documentary or something, but it was actually far more insightful. Basically, about how class is the last great barrier to employment in the UK; the one thing recruiters still discriminate on (even if it’s subconsciously, or they don’t say it). To some (i.e. those who’ve struggled in the system) it might all feel obvious, but there’s evidence and proof to back it up. It’s available on iPlayer (for another 11 months) if you’re interested.
  • University Challenge Series 49 Episodes 1-3 — An excellent show for making you feel astoundingly unknowledgeable. I kill it whenever a film- or TV-related picture round comes up, though.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Stranger Things 3This month, I have mostly been missing Stranger Things season 3, which seems to have provoked controversy with some of its character decisions (I’ve been avoiding spoilers, but have seen news headlines that imply as much); and Veronica Mars season 4, which, er, seems to have provoked controversy with some of its character decisions (I’ve been avoiding spoilers, but have also seen news headlines that imply as much). As they’re only eight episodes apiece, hopefully I’ll have found time for them before next month’s column. (Veronica Mars still doesn’t have a UK broadcaster (in fact, I don’t think it has one anywhere outside of the US and Canada, I guess thanks to it being on Hulu (though other Hulu shows have international carriers, so who knows what’s going on here)), but where there’s a will there’s a way.) And if that wasn’t enough, Amazon also recently released subversive comic book adaptation The Boys, which also looks right within my wheelhouse. That’s also eight episodes, incidentally. I seem to remember reading a while ago that Netflix’s research suggested eight was the optimum number of episodes to have in a season nowadays. I guess everyone took that to heart.

    Next month… see above (with crossed fingers).

  • Il blogger prodigo

    Aside

    Buongiorno, dear readers — the prodigal blogger has returned! (“Prodigal” being a word I’ve here misused, as I’m sure many of us do, thanks to that Biblical story. Though as it actually means “spending money freely and recklessly”, anyone who’s seen the size of my unwatched DVD and Blu-ray collection might consider it fitting after all.)

    So, I’ve just spent two weeks in Italy, much of it during a heat wave (Jesus wept, it was hot), so at least I got to laze about doing next to nothing. I certainly didn’t spend it learning Italian — almost the entirety of the vocabulary I picked up has already been used in this post. I didn’t spend it writing blog posts either, as it turned out (I favoured reading books instead) — so that’s why there are no new reviews just yet, but instead this brief post to note my return.

    Anyhow, I’ve got plenty of blog-reading and review-writing to catch up on now, so if you’ll excuse me again…

    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 17.8.
    • 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