The Past Month on TV #55

It’s SF/F-agogo in this month’s TV update, with new Star Trek, new Doctor Who, old Twilight Zone, and I’ve finally finished His Dark Materials too.

Doctor Who  Series 12 Episodes 3-5
Doctor Who series 12Well, it certainly has been an eventful first half to this series of Doctor Who! Never mind bringing back the Master and destroying Gallifrey (again) in the opening two-parter — showrunner Chris Chibnall has much bigger continuity-bothering ideas on his mind. But before that, two standalone episodes.

The first, Orphan 55, is currently the worst-rated episode of modern Who according to IMDb voters, with a score almost as low as the much-maligned Game of Thrones finale. But whereas I defended that episode, unfortunately I have no love for Orphan 55. I know a lot of people’s issue with it is that it’s a bit of a climate change polemic — some people just hate Who engaging with contemporary ‘political’ issues. Sorry, but it’s been doing that since at least the Pertwee era. It’s normally a mite more subtle than this, though. I mean, The Happiness Patrol is a blatant analogy for Thatcher, but at least it’s an analogy. So Orphan 55’s problem isn’t the content, it’s the delivery: an on-the-nose lecture, practically delivered straight to camera, stapled on the end like an afterthought. But it doesn’t exactly ruin the episode, because the rest of it isn’t much cop either: a logically-dubious runaround with a shopworn twist (one that Doctor Who itself has done before, in fact). But is it actually worse than previous “most despised” editions, like Fear Her and Sleep No More? Um, actually, I think it might be.

Thankfully, the week after things swung back in the right direction. In previous years Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror would probably have been regarded as a solid midseason bit of fun, but in the current era it virtually amounts to a classic. There were undeniable overtones of the Racnoss in the creature design, and Vincent and the Doctor in its depiction of an unappreciated-in-his-time historical genius (I half expected them to take Tesla into the future to show him there was a car named after him), but plenty of Who is like other parts of Who (it is 57 years and 879 episodes old, after all, not to mention the uncountable spinoff novels, audio dramas, comic strips, etc). All in all, it was fun enough.

But the real belter was the most recent episode, Fugitive of the Judoon. It’s most impressive as a bit of show-running stagecraft: foregrounding a popular returning monster in the title and publicity (the Judoon, obv) in order to hide the long-awaited return of a popular character (Captain Jack), which was a big surprise that in itself is designed to distract you from the real twist: another incarnation of the Doctor, played by Jo Martin.The two Doctors Social media and fan forums and whatnot have debated and analysed that revelation to death, so I won’t bother digging too much into all the possibilities of what it means — only time can tell. I will stake out this opinion, though: I am not a fan of the theory that she’s a pre-Hartnell version of the Doctor. The idea there were incarnations before the one we know as the first has always seemed disrespectful to me, somehow. Yeah, the Daleks ‘made’ Doctor Who, but Hartnell gave it his all too — without him week to week, and the effort he put into public appearances and the like, would the series have survived those early years? He’s not the only thing responsible for its success, and certainly not for its longevity, but he was The First — leave that be, thanks.

But, as I say, we’ll find out in time. More interesting to me, for now, is how showrunner Chris Chibnall is going about his job nowadays. Comparing his two seasons so far, Chibnall’s attitude to reusing stuff from Who’s past seems to be — very literally — all or nothing. Last season, he made a point of not using any continuity — no returning characters or villains, no significant references to the Doctor’s past or previous adventures. This season, he seems to be using all the continuity. I can’t remember a Doctor Who story so loaded with references to not-recent previous adventures as this one. Even the Chameleon Arch gets an outing, a thing that mattered in two stories that aired 13 years ago. It feels like Chibnall is an RTD-era fanboy revelling in bringing back stuff from a time when the show was at its peak of popularity. Maybe that’s what it needs right now. Though, in a broader sense, I feel like last season was Chibnall trying to copy RTD-in-2005 (fresh! new! start watching here!), while this time he’s doing his best to be Moffat-in-2011 (complicated mysteries! revisionist continuity! wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey explanations!)

Whether these additions to the mythology are interesting and productive, or whether it’ll be like “half-human” and fans ignore it ASAP, will depend on what’s to come. Either way, it’s the most exciting the show’s been in a good few years, and that’s something in itself.

Star Trek: Picard  Season 1 Episode 1
Star Trek: Picard season 1The Star Trek series boldly goes where it’s never gone before: into the Prestige TV market. (Despite initial appearances, based on things like the reviews I’ve read and variably-sized season orders, I’m not sure Discovery was really “prestige TV” in the end.) Is it up to competing with the big boys of this peak TV era?

Well, after just the first episode, I’m going to hang fire on answering that — on the evidence of this one instalment, it could go either way. It can certainly walk the walk: it looks very nice, with plenty of lush cinematography and expensive visuals (both globe-hopping locations and swish CGI), and it certainly wants to appear weighty, with themes of ageing and decay (not only of people but also institutions). But can it talk the talk? Does it actually have things to say beyond “Picard is old now, and Starfleet’s a bit shit”? Once upon a time I’d’ve said the fact it’s heavily (heavily) embedded in existing Trek continuity was a barrier, both to entry (“only fans will know enough to follow the plot”) and quality (“it’s so busy looking to the past it doesn’t do anything new”) and acclaim (“I’m not a Trekkie so I didn’t care”) — but that’s not necessarily the case anymore, as HBO’s Watchmen only just proved: you can reuse and remix and lean hard on previous texts, and still produce a high-quality work. That said, while Picard does invest energy in making sure newbies have all the continuity stuff explained, I feel like the show already shows signs of wavering towards Trek’s usual habits, for good or ill. But there’s an interesting enough set of mysteries just getting underway, and it’s always great to see Patrick Stewart, so I remain optimistic it’s going to go somewhere good.

His Dark Materials  Series 1
His Dark Materials series 1I reviewed the first three episodes of His Dark Materials in my previous regular update, just over a month ago, but I’d actually watched them much earlier, so when I returned to the series in the new year I decided to restart from the beginning. That improved my opinion of them considerably, I must say, but then a second viewing always has the ability to help clarify things you were unclear of before. Still, I got much more invested this time, and was swept along for the ride and the mysteries the show unfurled. Like the two series I’ve reviewed above, there’s plenty of mystery and intrigue here — some of it answered, much of it left hanging for future seasons (there’s two whole books to come, intended to be adapted across four more seasons). But even in this first salvo, events and characters move in interesting directions. It’s a very dark show at times, especially for something adapted from what are ostensibly children’s books, but that at least creates a genuine sense of jeopardy and unpredictability. So too the way it handles its characters — there’s not just simplistic twists of “hero turns out to be villain” or vice versa, but definite shades of grey. With the promise of whole new worlds to come, I’m definitely excited to see what’s next.

Also, I bloody love the theme music now.

The Twilight Zone  ‘Best Of’
The Midnight SunIt’s been six months since I did one of my “best of The Twilight Zone” roundups, but I always intended to continue them, so here we are again.

Having already reviewed the top ten episodes as ranked by several different sources (IMDb voters, ScreenCrush, and Paste), I decided to resume my journey through the original Twilight Zone by producing an average of various different lists to identify which instalments are acclaimed by consensus (because that’s the kind of thing I do). To help broaden the range of opinions, I added a bunch of new lists to my calculations — namely, Ranker’s The Best Twilight Zone Episodes of All Time as sorted by voters; Buzzfeed’s Ranking Every Episode by Arianna Rebolini; TV Guide’s 50 Essential Episodes Ranked by Joal Ryan: and Thrillist’s The 50 Best Episodes by Scott Beggs.

This new average ranking gave me a fresh top ten with a couple of episodes I’d not seen. The first of those was in 9th place (also, for what it’s worth, it’s now in IMDb’s top ten too, having moved up from 11th to 8th since I last looked). That’s The Masks, which I think is one of the series’ best-paced episodes. I’ve found that even some of the greatest episodes can feel a little thin, with a singular concept that only just fills 25 minutes, but this one doesn’t overstay its welcome by a second — and yet it’s as simple and clear a concept as any. That’s perhaps when TZ is at its best: simple but effective concepts, cleanly executed. And there’s a moral lesson too, of course.

I was slightly less impressed by The After Hours, which finishes off the consensus top ten. It’s an effectively creepy edition for the most part, with some genuine scares, but for me it was slightly undermined by the final explanation, which I don’t think quite hangs together with what’s gone before. A definite case of “it’s about the journey not the destination”, then, because up ’til that point it’s superb.

Number 12 Looks Just Like YouMoving beyond the top ten to complete the top 10% (i.e. the 16 best episodes), next is Number 12 Looks Just Like You (which, by-the-by, comes 10th on Thrillist). This is what some people might call “proper sci-fi” — an idea of the future spun out of what’s possible in the present, using it to present an analogy for the times we live in. And what is the analogy? In this case, there’s a few things you can read into it: mental health; conformism; the transition from childhood to adulthood; maybe all of the above; maybe something else. The only real downside is the episode hints at a wider world that isn’t explored. It’s mentioned in passing that the writing of Shakespeare, Keats, and others has been banned. Why? By whom? And while a bunch of middle-class white people are choosing which generic model they want to look like, what about other races? Class is less of an immediate issue because it seems this is a government-backed thing that everyone must undergo — but then, why do the lower classes get to look just the same as their ‘betters’? Surely there’d be different models depending on your social station? Never mind a 25-minute episode, someone could spin an entire series out of this… Still, having so much to ponder is one mark of a very good episode.

The Midnight Sun is the penultimate episode in the top 16, and also is another one that’s 10th on one list, this time Ranker’s. I’d probably put it even higher — this is definitely one of my favourite episodes so far. It takes a massive world-altering event and shows it to us from the point of view of two ordinary women; and not even from when the event happens or is discovered, but from a month into the new status quo, when it’s become a fact of life rather than some revelation. It’s a different way to approach such a story even today, and it works all the more for it. And, of course, there’s a twist (spoiler to come!) — one of the very, very few times “it was just a dream” works.

Robert Redford invites you to The Twilight ZoneFinally for now, the last episode in the top 16 (and the only one of today’s episodes not in anyone’s top ten), Nothing in the Dark. Probably best known for staring a young Robert Redford, it’s about an old woman who’s paranoid and agoraphobic due to her fear of meeting Death; but when Redford’s cop is shot right outside her door, she has to let him in to save his life. It’s a nice idea for a story, but (to loop back to what I was saying about The Masks) it feels a little slight in the execution. Half of the second act is taken up in a diversion with a demolition guy which is just that, a diversion. Still, there are very good performances from the two leads, and it comes with a well-meant little message by the end.

Also watched…
  • The Goes Wrong Show Series 1 Episodes 3-5 — I love this show with all my heart. Episode 3 was perhaps the best yet (even the title, A Trial to Watch, is a gag). So this is a friendly reminder that the series so far is available on iPlayer and the sixth (and final, *sob*) episode is on tonight.
  • The Great British Bake Off Series 1 Episodes 1-3 — I joined Bake Off before it was an all-encompassing phenomenon, with series two. So I’ve always meant to go back and see the one season I’d missed, especially since the whole lot became available on Netflix. It’s funny watching it now, though, because so much of it is familiar as Bake Off, but it’s early days and it’s unrefined. It’s a bit like watching a version of the show made by someone who pretty much remembers how it works but not exactly.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation — I’ve never seen all of TNG (far from it), so as Picard is expected to be heavily indebted to existing continuity, I sought out a few likely-to-be-relevant episodes. The first was season 5 episode 23, I Borg, which is regarded as one of the series’ very best, and deservedly so. The other was the season 6 finale / season 7 premiere, a two-parter called Descent, which I guess was decent. There’s some good stuff in the first half about Data dealing with the possibility of experiencing emotion, but the second half is a bit too pulpy in a way I’m not sure fits Trek (or at least my idea of it). If any Trekkies reading this have other episodes they’d recommend (for relevance to Picard, not just because they’re good), I’m open to suggestions.
  • Twin Peaks in UHD — The recently-released Twin Peaks: From Z to A box set includes a bonus disc with two episodes in 4K Ultra HD. Yeah, just two. Why they didn’t do the full series, who knows. Expense, I guess. Some people reckon this is testing the waters for a full-series UHD release, but I dunno — considering they’ve already released the whole series on individual season DVDs, then a complete box set DVD, then Blu-ray, now a collector’s edition Blu-ray, do they think they’ll manage to sell it to people again? Sure, there’ll be some customers, but enough? Anyway, the two episodes here are the original pilot and season 3 / A Limited Event Series / The Return (whatever you want to call it) Part 8. The latter looked pretty great, even without HDR enhancement; the former… I’m counting as a movie, so will write about in January’s Rewatchathon segment.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Good OmensThis month, I have mostly been missing Good Omens… again! I didn’t get round to it on Prime Video when it premiered last May, and now it’s airing weekly on BBC Two but I still haven’t started it. I read the book as a kid and absolutely loved it (for a very long time I would’ve said it was my favourite novel), so when they announced a miniseries adaptation I was excited — especially as it was being managed by Neil Gaiman himself and starred a bunch of my favourite actors, not least Michael Sheen and David Tennant in the lead roles. That’s almost the problem: I want to watch it properly; I can’t just bung it on. Maybe I’ll get to it before next month’s column.

    Also missed: The Trial of Christine Keeler (I hear it got pretty good, but only after a couple of episodes); White House Farm (I’m interested in the case, but apparently the series is overly slow and long-winded); Deadwater Fell (David Tennant again); and probably a tonne of other stuff that’s slipped my mind for the moment…

    Next month… more Doctor Who, more Picard, more Twilight Zone. As for new stuff, Locke & Key finally makes it to the screen via Netflix… but that’s about all I can foresee for now. Maybe I will finally do Good Omens

    P.S. If you’re an attentive regular reader who’s thinking, “hold on, did I miss #53 and #54?”, the answer is no, you didn’t — the mistake is mine. A whole year ago, I forgot to count the 2018 Christmas post towards the numbering, which is the way I’d previously done things, so I am belatedly correcting for it by ‘hiding’ the jump alongside the one for 2019’s Christmas post. If you think that’s terribly confusing, just remember: it doesn’t really matter anyway.

  • 2019 Statistics

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas — that’s well and truly over now, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not even really the new year anymore, it’s just the year now. This post is kinda late.

    No, by “most wonderful time of the year” I mean this — the day I publish my annual statistics post! As the guy who does the introductions to films at Odeon might say, “ooh, yeah, the statistics. I love the statistics. Specially chosen for this post, actually.” Except they’re not really specially chosen, I do the same ones every year. But then the trailers aren’t really specially chosen for the film, are they? That Odeon guy’s just a liar.

    Anyway, it’s time for the main event. So, turn off your phones, finish your conversations, and get ready — it’s about to begin…

    I watched 151 new feature films in 2019. That ranks 5th in the history of 100 Films — it’s the lowest of the past five years, but beats every one from 2007 to 2014. It’s 11% beyond 6th place (2014) and 15% short of 4th place (2017). And it’s down a massive 110 films (42%) on last year.

    I also watched one extended or altered cut of a feature I’d seen before — namely, Deadpool 2’s Super Duper $@%!#& Cut. (I know it’s only my own rules I’m butting up against, but I haven’t settled on a way to count alternate cuts like this now that I have my Rewatchathon. I mean, it’s not strictly a rewatch because it’s a different cut, but it’s also not a new film because it’s not that different to the version I’d already seen. Anyway, it’s included in the following graph, but I haven’t counted it towards the other stats.)

    As just alluded to, in 2019 I also undertook my Rewatchathon for the third year. My target was 50 films, but I only made it to 29. Still, that’s 29 more than I might’ve managed otherwise. Add all of those together and my overall total is 181 films. I’d love to tell you how that compares to previous years, but I’ve still not put together a proper history of rewatches for that comparison. Maybe I’ll finally get it sorted for 2020’s stats.

    I also watched 20 short films in 2019, which more than doubles the next nearest — second place is a tie between 2007 and 2018 with just eight each. As with the alternate cut, these only count towards one stat, which I’ll mention in a moment.

    So, the total running time of the 151 new films was 271 hours and 56 minutes. That’s down a whopping 41% on last year… but then the number of films I watched was down 42%, so fair enough. Add in the Deadpool 2 alternate cut and all those shorts and the total running time of my new 2019 viewing was 277 hours and 47 minutes — that’s just over 3½ hours of shorts, FYI. (Last year I said “maybe next year I’ll start counting my Rewatchathon here too”. I haven’t, obviously. Maybe next year…)

    Here’s how that viewing played out across the year, month by month. It’s a particularly interesting year to have this graph (I only added it for the first time in 2018’s stats), because my viewing patterns have been so variable. I imagine if a lot of people bothered to plot a graph like this they’d end up with a broadly flat line, because I’d presume they watch roughly the same amount of stuff (whether that’s a lot or a little) month in, month out. Or maybe they’d all be as variable as mine, I dunno. Either way, my one is anything but flat…

    Now, how I watched those films. Most people may be pivoting to streaming, and dedicated cinephiles of course see a lot on the big screen, but I still love my physical media. Nonetheless, for the fifth year in a row this year’s most prolific viewing format was streaming. I guess I’m one of those people too. Or not — I buy more than my fair share of Blu-rays, I just don’t get round to watching as many as I should. Anyway, streaming accounted for 49 films, or 32.5% of my viewing. The raw number is less than half what it was last year (109), but then I did watch 110 fewer films overall too. More interestingly, the percentage is also down significantly, continuing a trend that’s been going on for a few years now — it was 57% in 2016, 43.2% in 2017, 41.8% in 2018, and now just 32.5%. Maybe I’m bucking the trend after all.

    Those streaming numbers can be broken down across five services: Netflix, Amazon (a mix of Prime and paid-for rentals), Now TV (aka Sky Cinema), BBC iPlayer, and Rakuten. This year, it was Netflix in first place (it’s been Amazon the last two years) with 21 films (42.9% of streams). Mind, Amazon were close behind on 19 (38.8%). Way down in third was Now TV, with just five films (10.2%) — I only subscribe for a month so I can watch the Oscars, but I clearly didn’t get very good value for money this year (for comparison, last year I used it to watch 25 films). That said, keep reading to downloads for more on this… Rounding out the streamers were iPlayer with three (6.1%) and Rakuten with just one (2%).

    In second place was Blu-ray, represented by 34 films (22.5%). Sadly, that is also a much reduced percentage from last year (when it was 31.4%). As I said, I buy loads of the darn things, so I should do better here.

    So, where are those percentage points going? Well, in third we find downloads, with 22 films (14.6%). In real terms that’s a drop from last year (when it was 25), but if we compare percentages it’s up by around 50%. See, statistics are fun, aren’t they? (Although Now TV only gets credited with five films, a few download viewings were, shall we say, morally justified by their presence on Now TV… by which I mean I acquired better-quality copies than Now TV’s outdated 720p and watched those instead, but it’s okay because I’d paid for those films via a Now TV subscription.)

    Close behind is TV, on 20 films (13.2%) — again, a drop in real terms but a rise in percentage. Still, nowhere near where it once was — check out the drop since 2010 in this graph.

    In fifth place is cinema, whose lowly position masks something of an achievement: it’s the most cinema visits I’ve made in one year since this blog began. My total was 19 films (12.6%), besting 2017’s tally by just one. It’s also the only format number that’s bigger than last year. Mostly it’s thanks to FilmBath Festival — without that, it’d only be eight (mind you, that would still be more than most years of this blog’s life — only 4 out of 12 other years would be higher.)

    Finally, in sixth and last place, is DVD. Oh, poor DVD. Some people still love you, but the industry’s failure to get Blu-ray to catch on is a rant for another day. Anyway, this year I watched seven films (4.6%) on digital versatile disc, which is its lowest number since 2012. It’s impressive it’s still toddling on at all, really, but sometimes it’s easier just to watch the DVD I already have than source an HD copy.

    In amongst all that, I watched seven films in 3D (4.6%), down 11 from last year (which was up 11 from the year before!), and 15 in 4K UHD (9.9%), up just one from last year. Considering I own a 3D-capable 4K TV, their combined percentage of 14.6% is a bit disappointing — especially as I didn’t have a UHD Blu-ray player last year, so that new bit of kit has made very little net impact. Though, again, it depends how you do your comparison: going from 14 to 15 may not be much, but as a percentage of my viewing UHD has increased from 5.4% to that 9.9%.

    So, with that said, how did my viewing split up in terms of UHD vs. HD vs. SD? Contributing to the UHD number is a cocktail of Blu-ray discs, streams, and downloads. For HD, it’s the same mix, plus cinema trips (you’d think big cinema screens would be keen to go for 4K instead of 2K, but nope — apparently there are shockingly few 4K cinemas out there). And in SD, well, it’s of course a similar blend again, but with DVDs instead of BDs. The final result is 112 films in HD (74.2%). Add the aforementioned 15 (9.9%) in UHD and I’ve got a total of 84.1% in HD formats. That’s down a bit from last year, which nearly hit 90% HD, but hey-ho.

    Picture quality shouldn’t really be an indicator of the age of films I watched — old films can be HD too, of course (is everyone aware of this by now? I had to explain to someone once how even silent films could be HD. But, in fairness, they weren’t the kind of person who’s likely to be reading a film blog). Nonetheless, my viewing did skew newer, as usual: the most popular decade was the 2010s, with 90 films. That’s 59.6% of my viewing, a higher percentage than last year, but not as high as the year before that. The 2010s have been my highest decade ever year since 2012 — now it’ll be interesting to see how soon the 2020s take over.

    The 2000s have come second since 2012 too… but not this year! Thanks primarily to Quentin Tarantino’s Swinging Sixties Move Marathon, in 2019 second place went to the 1960s (obviously). It’s a distant second, mind, with just 13 films (8.6%). In fact, only seven of the ten films in QT’s marathon were from the ’60s themselves, but without those it would be much lower in the rankings.

    So, the 2000s are pushed into third, with 11 films (7.3%). In fourth we find the 1970s with nine (5.96%), also helped slightly by the Tarantino marathon (though, in this case, only by one extra film). It’s back to the ’90s for fifth, with eight (5.3%), followed closely by the ’50s on seven (4.6%), including the final two films from the “sixties” marathon.

    Rounding things out, the 1920s and ’40s had four (2.6%) apiece; the ’80s is uncommonly low on just three (1.99%); and finally there’s the oldest decade for this year, the 1920s, with two (1.3%).

    From “when” to “where” — countries of production. And it’s another “business as usual” situation, because once again the USA dominated with a hand in 113 films (74.8%, which is up a couple of points from last year). Also as usual, second place belongs to the UK, with 35 films (23.2%, also an increase from last year). Also in double figures were France (16 films, 10.6%), Japan (14 films, 9.3%), and Germany (10 films, 6.6%). In all, 28 countries were involved in the production of at least one film. That’s a marginally lower number than it’s been the last few years, but I also watched a much lower total of films, so it’s not too bad overall.

    You might think less variety in countries would mean less variety in languages spoken, but not so. Now, English was still thoroughly dominant, being spoken in 128 films — but that works out as 84.8%, the lowest it’s ever been. In second place for the third year in a row was Japanese, its tally of 13 films being the only other language to make double figures this year. Although it totals fewer films than last year, its percentage of 8.6% is similar. In total, there were 24 languages, plus four silent films. American Sign Language cropped up in one film, as it seems to every year, while other more unusual (for my viewing) languages included Burmese, Mixtec, and Punjabi.

    A total of 134 directors plus 10 directing partnerships appear on 2019’s main list. Only six of those were responsible for multiple films, the lowest that figure’s been since 2012. Most prolific of these was Kenji Misumi with three, all Zatoichi films. The other five directors, with two apiece, were Bill Condon, Alfred Hitchcock, Phil Karlson (both from Tarantino’s sixties marathon), Fritz Lang (arguably — some would say Dr Mabuse, der Spieler is a single film), and Kimiyoshi Yasuda (also both Zatoichi films).

    For the past few years I’ve charted the number of female directors whose work I’ve watched. There were ten female directors represented among 2019’s feature film viewing — seven as sole director, three as part of a directing partnership with a bloke. Counting the co-directors as half a film each, this represents 5.63% of my viewing — better than last year (which was better than the two years before it), but, as this graph ably demonstrates, still a disappointingly low figure. I mean, I watched more films directing by someone called “John”.

    At the time of writing, 12 films from 2019’s list appear on the IMDb Top 250 (or “Top Rated Movies: Top 250 as rated by IMDb Users”, as it’s less-catchily technically known nowadays). However, because that list is ever-changing, the number I have left to see has only gone down by four, to 45. The current positions of this year’s checks range from 22nd (Life is Beautiful) to 225th (The Red Shoes).

    At the end of my annual “top ten” post I always include a list of 50 notable films I missed from that year’s releases, and continue to track my progress at watching those ‘misses’. For the past few years I’ve managed to watch some more from every one of these lists, but I let that slip in 2019. The overall number I watched dropped too, totalling 37 (the lowest it’s been since 2014, when obviously there were fewer films to choose from). Well, that’s the kind of year it’s been. Anyway, the ones I did watch included two each from 2008, 2012, and 2016; and one each from 2010, 2011, and 2017.

    Finally, in the first year of watching 2018’s 50, I saw 28 of them. That’s no record, but it’s still over 50% (to be precise, 56%), so I can’t complain.

    In total, I’ve now seen 422 out of 600 of those ‘missed’ movies. That’s 70.3%, up a teeny tiny amount from last year’s 70.0%. If I don’t pick up the pace again next year, I may be looking at a percentage drop. (As ever, the 50 for 2019 will be listed in my “best & worst” post.)

    And lo, just like that, we’re coming to the end. To conclude 2019’s statistics, it’s the climax of every review: the scores.

    As always, this includes every film, meaning some don’t have published reviews yet — and, therefore, some I was still mulling over my exact score for; the kind of films I’d happily award 3.5 or 4.5 on Letterboxd, but which here I always round up or down to a whole star. Maybe I should start giving half stars. (I feel like I say that every year…) Anyway, I’ve had to go ahead and pick a rating for everything to get this part of the stats done, and maybe I’ve been too generous in places, or too harsh in others. We shouldn’t really take such a simplistic rating system too seriously, anyway (he says, as he goes on to make it the final thing in this post as if it’s a definitive statement on the quality of the films I saw this year…)

    Barrelling on regardless: at the top end of the spectrum, this year I awarded 25 five-star ratings, which means I have 16.6% of films full marks. That’s a slightly higher percentage than last year, but lower than the year before that, but higher than the year before that, but lower than the year before that… and so on. In other words, I’ve not suddenly got harsher or more generous, or suddenly watched a lot more or lot fewer good films.

    Indeed, it was also business as usual with the score I handed out most often: four-stars, which I awarded to 62 films. Out of 13 years of this blog, four-stars has been my highest-scoring score 12 times (the exception is 2012, which saw more three-star films). That said, at 41.1% it’s the lowest percentage of four-stars-ers since 2013. That loss was spread out across the rest of the board, with slightly higher than normal percentages for the remaining three ratings. For example, there were 46 three-star films, which at 30.5% is its third highest ever percentage.

    Fortunately, the “bad” end of the scores continue to bring up the rear, with 15 two-star films (9.9%) and three films meriting just one-star (1.99%). That’s technically the highest percentage of one-star films since 2012, but as the other intervening years range between 0.7% and 1.5%, I don’t think it’s a cause for concern. It’s barely even cause for comment.

    Finally, that brings us to the average score — the single figure that arguably asserts 2019’s quality compared to other years. The short version is 3.6 out of 5, the first time it’s been below 3.7 since 2013. In fact, if we go to three decimal places, it comes out as 3.604, which is the second lowest ever (beaten by 2012’s exceptionally poor 3.352). Now, it doesn’t feel like I’ve had particularly poor viewing this year — indeed, I was worried I was handing out five-star ratings too easily at one point — so it’s something of a surprise to find it so low. But maybe I’m just getting more discerning. I mean, it’s not a sharp drop (unlike that 2012 anomaly), more a slight decline.

    And that’s the statistics over for another year, I’m afraid. But if you’re a junkie like me and still after more, check out my Letterboxd 2019 stats — that site tracks different stuff (like directors and actors), and includes different films (i.e. my Rewatchathon viewing, plus a few TV things), so it’s a bit different. That’s exciting, eh?


    If you thought it was getting a bit far into 2020 to still be thinking about 2019, oh ho ho, no! Still to come: my picks for the best and worst of my viewing from last year.

    2018 Statistics

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

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

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

    And now, without any further ado…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    The Past Month on TV #29

    After the bustle of Christmas TV, it’s been a quieter January on the box here at 100 Films Towers. Nonetheless, I did catch up with one of the best series of 2017 — possibly of all time…

    Blue Planet II
    Blue Planet IIDespite the massive hype, I missed this when it aired. I say “missed” — I always intend to watch these big natural history shows, then never get round to them. I confess, it was new tech that persuaded me: after I saw it was all available in UHD on iPlayer, I had to give that a go. And…

    Wow.

    That’s the only word for it, really. Well, it isn’t — “stunning” would be another one. Incredible. Wondrous. Mind-boggling. I’m talking about both the UHD photography and the series itself here. In the latter camp we can also add educational, and informative, and eye-opening, but those are kind of a given — it’s a BBC David Attenborough series, of course it nails that part. Attenborough’s script and delivery strikes the perfect balance between acknowledging the creatures’ intelligence and personalities without slipping into anthropomorphising them. But many of the creatures and places we’re shown are almost unbelievable. Never has that old chestnut “we know more about the surface of the Moon than the oceans” seemed more true. James Cameron is planning to explore the alien life in Pandora’s oceans in Avatar 2, but he’s going to have to go some way to imagine anything more alien than what’s to be found in our real depths. I wonder if he’s seen this? He should. Everyone should.

    If that wasn’t enough, the visuals are awe-inspiring. The vibrant colours of some of these creatures were incredible, unquestionably enhanced by the wider spectrum of HDR. The level of detail the extra resolution seems to afford made it all feel very real too — creatures like dolphins and sharks don’t show gaudy colours, but the texture and sheen of their bodies felt like you could reach out and touch it.

    I wish you could see this in HDR...Now, I didn’t do a comparison to the regular HD stream, so I can’t really say how much better the UHD made things, but I do have a few observations. Related to it looking “more real”, after viewing I saw a good resolution photo taken for the series of one creature (this chap) which didn’t seem to capture the texture of its body in the same way the episode did. That could be the added effect of motion vs a still photo, but it could also be the extra detail from 4K. And talking of comparing still images, when a UHD episode was selected it displayed the iPlayer menu in UHD/HDR too, so I was able to do a direct comparison of each episodes’ key image. In particular, the one pictured above (from episode five) really showed off the vibrancy of HDR.

    Finally, the making-of bits they have at the end of every episode looked more muted than the main show, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s because they were finished at HD rather than UHD. But that’s not to say those segments looked bad. So while I feel fairly sure the HDR image was better to at least some degree, I’m also certain that at least some of this marvellousness would come across in regular ol’ 1080p — quality does filter down with image resolution, and they’ve done such sterling work here.

    Anyway. Like everyone else, I can’t recommend Blue Planet II enough to anyone… but doubly so if you have a chance to see it in UHD with HDR.

    Little Women
    Little WomenAs I mentioned last time, I’ve never seen or read a previous version of Little Women, but apparently this new one was pretty faithful so I figure I’m all learned about it now. The biggest change appears to be in the ages of the four eponymous heroines: in this version they look to be about the same age, in their late teens or early 20s at the start, but in fact they should be 16, 15, 13 and 12. Quite different. A challenge for adapters, though, because the story covers a timespan of five or more years (by my reckoning). Other films have dodged this by casting two actresses in some roles, but this adaptation sought to avoid that. It has its cons (an early petulant act comes across very differently if done by a 12-year-old versus a c.17-year-old, I think), but it is what it is.

    Anyway, setting that point aside, it seems quite clear why the book has endured in popularity. (Or, if you prefer, books — in the US it’s one novel with a Part 1 and Part 2, but in the UK it’s separated as Little Women and Good Wives. This version adapts both.) There’s a certain tweeness and sweetness to it — it’s about four sisters who are poor but not that poor and all love each and do fun homely things and have romantic entanglements and so on and so forth — but it’s laced with enough seriousness and sadness (to say more would be spoilersome) to add a bit of welcome grit. Plus the big central romance doesn’t pan out how you might expect. Actually, it develops with a solid dose of realism that more romance-based storylines might benefit from.

    This particular adaptation shines with the typical high quality of a BBC drama, with a recognisable elder cast (Emily Watson, Dylan Baker, Michael Gambon, Angela Lansbury) being equalled by a quartet of newcomers and almost-newcomers as the girls — including Maya Hawke, who looks scarily like her mother, Uma Thurman. (Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. Seriously, it’s like they’ve used time travel to cast a young Uma Thurman.)

    Also watched…
  • Bright — Well, some people counted it as TV. Review here.
  • Death in Paradise Series 7 Episodes 1-2 — As sunny, breezy, and predictable as its island setting. Reliably lightweight and cheery viewing for dreary January.
  • The Great Christmas Bake Off — For a show just about people competitively baking that I watched in the middle of January, this was surprisingly heartwarming and Christmassy. (Not watched the New Years special yet because the trailer looked strangely disappointing.)
  • Not Going Out The True Meaning of Christmas — The plot may be predictable, but writer-star Lee Mack keeps the jokes coming thick and fast.

    Things to Catch Up On
    McMafiaThis month, I have mostly been missing the BBC’s pair of big, grim January dramas, McMafia and Hard Sun. They both seem to have received a very mixed reaction (not that I’ve been following too closely because, y’know, spoilers), but both have intriguing setups: the former a drama about the global business of the Russian mafia inspired by a non-fiction book; the latter a pre-apocalyptic sci-fi/crime thriller from the creator of Luther.

    Next month… no specific idea, to be honest. But I’ve got the latest seasons of The Crown and Peaky Blinders waiting to be binged, and plenty of Arrow and The Flash to catch up on.

  • My Continuing Adventures in the Brave New World of 4K UHD, Part 37

    In my ongoing adventure of “trying to work out if 4K is any good or not”, I finally got round to doing a direct comparison: some scenes from The Punisher episode one, which I compared in 4K with Dolby Vision (through my TV’s Netflix app) to 1080p (through my Amazon Fire TV Stick).

    And holy moly if I didn’t really see the difference.

    In 4K, The Punisher’s got gritty, grainy visuals. In 1080p, that quality all but disappeared, just smudged away. And the colours… I watched in 4K first, and during a particularly dark scene I tried to note how distinguishable different colours and shades were in shadowy areas. I needn’t have bothered: in 1080p it was all just black. So, in conclusion, the difference in both areas (resolution and colour range) was, to be honest, considerably more pronounced than I was expecting.

    Dolby Vision

    Now, a few caveats. This conspicuous a change is undoubtedly due in part to how much bandwidth Netflix bothers to use, and therefore how much compression is being applied. It seems that for 4K they devote about three to four times more bandwidth than for 1080p (and even that’s about half what a Blu-ray goes at). This may not have affected the colours, but it likely explains why the 1080p stream lacked so much of the fine detail seen at 4K.

    Also, there’s always the potential that my TV’s settings were affecting things. HDR and Dolby Vision use a dedicated set of picture settings, which have to be setup separately from those used for regular playback. I’ve optimised both sets as best I can, but there’s always the possibility I did one better than the other. There’s also the fact that I was using different devices. Maybe the Fire TV Stick is just less good at streaming Netflix than my TV’s app? (If I could force the Netflix app to play in lower quality then I’d’ve done the entire comparison there for fairness, but I don’t think that’s possible.)

    Finally, to drag a different series into the debate, I also watched Stranger Things 2 in UHD with Dolby Vision. Most of the time it looked fine, but every once in a while the colours in a shot would look completely screwy — usually too blown out, like someone had whacked the brightness up to silly levels, sometimes erasing detail in the process. Now, what Dolby Vision does is adjust the picture settings on a shot-by-shot basis to optimise every individual moment (rather than just use a blanket setting for the whole movie, which is what standard HDR does). Presumably that’s why the picture went funny on individual shots rather than for whole scenes. I’m far from an expert on these things, but I believe part of how Dolby Vision does this is to do with metadata, and apparently metadata can just go missing. Perhaps this is what happened. On the other hand, I went back and checked some of the most egregious moments on a different day and they retained the same problem. Who knows what was going on, then, but it’s obviously less than ideal. (If the same thing happened during The Punisher, I didn’t notice it.)

    Stranger Things 2 HDR

    So, after all that, I’m still not 100% convinced about UHD and HDR… but I can’t deny there was a marked improvement when comparing The Punisher, particularly during very dark scenes. Heck, even if the difference is just a fluke of how I’ve set up my TV, it proves that paying for the 4K option on a Netflix subscription is worth it. But purchasing a 4K Blu-ray player, which I’d also need to be region free, along with the prospect of having to rebuy some films again… that’s a lotta dough.

    I should probably do a Netflix UHD to 1080p Blu-ray comparison, really. Next time…

    The Duological Monthly Update for September 2017

    Well, I don’t know about you, but September flew by — it doesn’t feel like we can be in the last quarter of the year already. But here we are.

    Two weeks ago I posted a mid-month update that noted September was behind average and asked the question, “could this be the first month in over three years to not reach the ten-film threshold?” Well…


    #119 Antz (1998)
    #120 Vintage Tomorrows (2015)
    #121 Lions for Lambs (2007)
    #122 Guardians (2017), aka Zashchitniki
    #123 Life (2017)
    #124 T2 Trainspotting (2017)
    #125 Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
    #126 Yojimbo (1961), aka Yôjinbô
    #127 Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (2013)
    #128 Black Swan (2010)
    Kingsman: The Golden Circle
    .


    • So, the answer to the mid-month question: no. I watched exactly ten new films this month, maintaining that double-figure minimum for the 40th consecutive month.
    • However, that does make it the lowest month of 2017. It also failed to reach the September average (previously 11.78, now 11.6), the rolling average for the last 12 months (previously 14.25, now 13.83), and the average for 2017 to date (previously 14.75, now 14.2).
    • Part of the reason for this shortfall is I’ve been making more of an effort with my Rewatchathon. More on that later.
    • This month’s Blindspot film: Akira Kurosawa’s pre-make of A Fistful of Dollars, the superb samurai movie Yojimbo.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film: with everyone getting in a tizzy about mother!, I thought it was a good time to finally get round to Black Swan. No idea what I’ll make of Aronofsky’s new one (I’ll catch it on Blu-ray or something), but I thought Black Swan was fantastic.
    • This month’s titular adjective comes from the fact I watched Trainspotting 1 and 2, Kingsman 1 and 2, and Wayne’s World 1 and 2. Just a coincidence, that. Shame I didn’t watch Sanjuro ‘n’ all, really.



    The 28th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    When I eventually get round to reviewing them, there’s a couple of films this month that will likely get the full five stars. Neither of those were the most enjoyable experience I had in front of a screen this month, though. That honour goes to Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    I don’t know what I expected, but it turns out a Russian superhero movie whose trailer went viral purely because it featured a bear wielding a machine-gun wasn’t actually the basis for a great film. Sorry, Guardians.

    Best Poster of the Month
    Eh, sod any of these films’ posters — documentary Drew: The Man Behind the Poster is stuffed full with some of the greatest movie posters of all time, all painted by Drew Struzan, of course. For me, his three posters for the Back to the Future trilogy take some beating.

    Best Dance Scene of the Month
    Natalie Portman may have undergone a tonne of personally-funded training so she could do 80% of Black Swan’s ballet sequences for real, but she’s got nothing on Channing Tatum’s poison-induced moves in Kingsman.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    For whatever reason, this is by the far the lowest-ranked most-viewed new post of the year so far: previous ones have all been in the top ten most-viewed posts for their month (surrounded by posts that weren’t new, obviously), but September’s victor was down at 16th. And for the fourth time this year, it was a TV review; specifically, my thoughts on the Twin Peaks season 3 finale. (The highest new film review was Kingsman: The Golden Circle, in 23rd overall.)



    As I mentioned above, this was a good month for my Rewatchathon; in fact, it’s tied with May as the best so far.

    #29 Jumanji (1995)
    #30 Godzilla (1998)
    #31 Trainspotting (1996)
    #32 Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
    #33 A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
    #34 Wayne’s World (1992)
    #35 Wayne’s World 2 (1993)

    Lots of films I’ve been meaning to re-watch since my childhood this month — Jumanji, Godzilla, Wayne’s World — all films I watched on or close to their original release but haven’t seen since.

    Godzilla was also my latest attempt at watching something in 4K. I’m beginning to come to the opinion that 4K does actually look better than 1080p, but, Jesus, it’s hard to tell. When I switched from SD to HD the difference was like night and day (that’s not the case for everyone, I know — some people either can’t tell or don’t care enough to notice), but from HD to UHD it’s like, “Is it better? It might be… I think…?” Maybe a side-by-side comparison would make this clear, but I’ve not been arsed to set one up. I think I’ll continue to get the 4K option when I subscribe to Netflix in the future, but I certainly have no plans to invest in a new Blu-ray player or start re-purchasing (or even initial-purchasing) my collection on 4K discs.


    Party like it’s 2049.