The 100th Monthly Update for August 2018

It’s been over eight years now since I started charting my progress via monthly updates — the first was in May 2010. And that, as you may’ve guessed, makes this the 100th such monthly update. (Although this was the 140th month I’ve been doing 100 Films, so, er, it’s kind of meaningless and arbitrary, really…)

Anyway, to mark this special occasion I’ve… named this blog post after it. And… that’s it.

So, on to this month’s viewing!


#174 Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
#175 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
#176 Strangers on a Train (1951)
#177 A Quiet Place (2018)
#178 The Quiet Earth (1985)
#179 Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
#180 Christopher Robin (2018)
#181 Zatoichi and the Chess Expert (1965), aka Zatōichi jigoku-tabi
#182 Darkest Hour (2017)
#183 Ready Player One 3D (2018)
#184 Seoul Station (2016), aka Seoulyeok
#185 The Most Unknown (2018)
#186 Zorro (1975)
#187 The Elephant Man (1980)
Christopher Robin

Zorro

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  • With 14 new films watched, August is the lowest month of 2018 so far.
  • Nonetheless, it beats the August average (previously 11.7, now 11.9). And though it falls short of the rolling average of the last 12 months (20.0), last August was even lower, so it still increases it (slightly) to 20.3. No such luck with my average for 2018 to date, though, which was previously 24.7 and is now 23.4.
  • But it’s only by recent standards that a total of 14 looks in any way poor. There’s no other year in which it would be the smallest month, and three years where it would’ve been the biggest. Plus, it would be an above-average tally for any month of the year except May, where it’d be bang on average. So, on an all-time scale, 14 is still good going.
  • In other good news, this month I passed 2017’s total to make 2018 my third best year ever. It will almost certainly reach second place next month. And I’d have to average just three films a month for the rest of the year for it not to become my best year ever. Well, let’s not jinx it…
  • It wasn’t a deliberate choice to watch A Quiet Place and The Quiet Earth back to back (though possibly a subconscious one, I guess). They’re the first (and second) films beginning with Q in this year’s viewing, and only the fifth and sixth in this blog’s lifetime.
  • And then I immediately followed those with a film beginning with “Z”, which would normally be quite rare (it was only my 13th ever “Z” film), but this year it really isn’t: it was my 7th this year alone, and by the end of the month I was up to my 9th.
  • While we’re on the topic, The Elephant Man is my first “E” film this year. It may be the most commonly used letter in the English language, but it’s a surprisingly rare one at the start of film titles.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: Alfred Hitchcock’s murderous thriller Strangers on a Train.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: the aforementioned The Elephant Man. Disappointed to discover it wasn’t David Lynch’s attempt at superheroes. (Not really.)



The 39th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
There are some well-regarded films in the list above, including a couple of Best Picture nominees, but nothing leaps out at me as a huge favourite — my short list for this award encompassed nine of the fourteen titles. On balance, I’m going to pick Christopher Robin. It’s definitely not the “best” film up there, but I love Pooh, and he’s on particularly good form in this film.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
There were no films I outright disliked this month, but two flicks battle it out for the title of least whelming — both starring zombies. I expected very little of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so I was surprised to find parts of it rather enjoyable. I still don’t think it was all it could’ve been, though. On the other end of the spectrum, there was a weight of expectation on a prequel to the magnificent Train to Busan, one which Seoul Station couldn’t live up to. It’s by no means a “bad film” though, and is certainly the best least-favourite film this year.

Podcast of the Month
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to listen to journalist Chris Hewitt chat with writer-director Christopher McQuarrie about Mission: Impossible – Fallout for 5 hours and 52 minutes on the two-part Empire Film Podcast Mission: Impossible – Fallout Spoiler Special. No, that’s not a typo: the interview (actually two interviews) lasts almost 6 hours. If that sounds like an OTT amount of time to discuss one film… well, I guess it would be for some. But McQuarrie is an intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, and honest interviewee, and the insights he shares about the process of making Fallout, a big-budget entertainment-focused summer blockbuster, are fascinating for die hard Mission fans, or, indeed, anyone interested in behind-the-scenes details of filmmaking. He gets pretty candid at times too. I guess Paramount okayed it, but it feels more revealing than you normally hear during a film’s press cycle — including what really went on during the saga of Henry Cavill’s moustache and the Justice League reshoots. (If you just want to hear that, it’s in the final 15 minutes of part one.)

Best Swashing of Buckles of the Month
Really, this is just an excuse to highlight the 1975 version of Zorro starring Alain Delon. It’s a Spaghetti Western cum swashbuckler, an actioner cum comedy, with very much the same kind of tone as Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers. It’s a lot of fun, and I think rather underrated. If you’re interested, it’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK (but not in the US, I’m afraid. Don’t know about elsewhere, or other providers).

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Despite only appearing on Thursday, my 37th TV column stormed up the charts, taking under 36 hours to pass presumed victor Christopher Robin (which had two whole weeks to amass its hit count) to bag this month’s crown. I thought this would be due to referrals from IMDb seeking my Disenchantment review, but the stats show it’s more thanks to referrals seeking Magic for Humans. Well, there you go.



Sadly, I fell slightly behind target with my Rewatchathon viewing this month. I only missed one, though, so that should be easily caught up.

This month, by coincidence, they’re all spy thrillers in long-running series…

#30 Skyfall (2012)
#31 Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
#32 The Hunt for Red October (1990)

The big news here is Mission: Impossible – Fallout, because it’s the first film I’ve seen twice at the cinema since Watchmen back in 2009. It’s a superb film that I would’ve considered seeing twice anyway, but it was sealed by getting the chance to see it in IMAX, where it did look incredible. (For the record, and for anyone who cares, it was only “LieMAX”, but still, looked great.) I would have quite liked the chance to see it in 3D too, especially as there doesn’t seem to be a Blu-ray release scheduled for that, but hey-ho.

Much like Never Say Never Again last month, I only watched Skyfall because I happened to see it was on ITV2. This time I was flicking and came upon it a little way in. Normally I wouldn’t watch a film under those circumstances, but I had nothing better to do and it’s so good that I became engrossed, eventually watching it through to the end. So, technically, this isn’t a full viewing, but I did watch the vast majority of it. According to my records, I’ve only seen it twice before, the last time being five-and-a-half years ago in February 2013. Even though I’m counting this, I feel like I should do it again properly sometime soon.

Finally, The Hunt for Red October is a film I remembered liking but, well, that’s about all I remembered. I’ve been meaning to re-watch it for many years, and I recently bought the Blu-ray so I could do just that — and, having checked my records, it turns out “recently” here means “three-and-a-half years ago”. I’m a lost cause, people… And I didn’t decide to finally get round to it because the latest reboot of the character came out yesterday. Well, not consciously, but I do keep seeing posters for the series around, and I have been quite looking forward to it, so that may have exerted a subconscious pull.


So, August was quite a slow month, both in viewing and review-posting, because I was away from home for a fair chunk of time in the middle. I’d hoped to catch up some on my ludicrous review backlog during that time, but that didn’t happen. Not even a little bit. And the reason I’m mentioning this now, in the “next month” section, is that the rest of my year is shaping up to be pretty busy with non-film stuff too, which is likely to mean a continued reduction in viewing and blog-writing. Only time will tell just how that pans out.

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Christopher Robin (2018)

2018 #180
Marc Forster | 104 mins | cinema | 2.39:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

Christopher Robin

Disney appear to have found a rich seam to mine for box office gold when it comes to live-action remakes of their most popular animated properties. Some have been variations different enough to almost stand on their own two feet; others have been straight-up remakes, because why mess with success. Christopher Robin is, perhaps, the most original so far. There have been many Winnie the Pooh adaptations down the years, as well as original movies and TV series featuring the same characters, so rather than remake any of those, here Disney have set about telling another brand-new story (although it begins with an adaptation of one of A.A. Milne’s very best Pooh stories, which is nice). This new tale justifies its live-action form by moving beyond the confines of the Hundred Acre Wood; and it also, smartly, trades on our own childhood nostalgia for the silly old bear.

We all remember Christopher Robin as a small boy, but small boys grow up, and now Christopher (Ewan McGregor) is an adult in post-war London with a wife (Hayley Atwell) and young daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). He works for a luggage company that is facing the prospect of firing most of Christopher’s team, unless he can find 20% of cuts; so instead of going away with his family for a nice weekend in the country, he must stay and work — again. With both his personal and professional lives on the brink of collapse, Christopher is very stressed.

Pooh in the park

Meanwhile, in his childhood playground of the Hundred Acre Wood, Winnie the Pooh (a convincingly cuddly CGI creation, given voice by Pooh’s regular performer, Jim Cummings) awakens one morning to find all his friends are missing. Deeply concerned, he wanders through the door through which Christopher Robin used to appear, and finds himself in London, where who should he bump into but his old childhood friend — now all grown up and serious. But Pooh is still a childlike innocent, of course (don’t worry, they haven’t given him a Ted-style makeover), and maybe that attitude is just what Christopher needs.

Having said they haven’t made Pooh into Ted (thank goodness — I like Ted, but that really isn’t the spirit of this franchise), there’s more than a little whiff of Paddington here. It’s not the exact same plot, but the overall theme — of a naïve but good-hearted bear arriving to help humans overcome their problems with kindness — is certainly similar. Indeed, many beats of the story that unfolds are familiar — the climax is somewhat borrowed from Mary Poppins, for example; and you’ll know how every subplot will end as soon as it’s introduced. For some viewers, this will render the film pointless and clichéd. For others… well, it’s not really the point.

The joy of Christopher Robin is it takes those recycled elements and filters them through the prism of Pooh. If you too loved Pooh as a child, or an adult, then Christopher’s journey to rediscover that connection is relatable and supportable. And it’s simply a delight to spend time with the characters, as Pooh casually (and accidentally) dispenses heartfelt wisdom that both delights and, occasionally, may even cause you to think.

Tigger on the loose

The other denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood do pop up too: miserable old Eeyore (Brad Garrett) stole the show for the audience I watched with; Tigger (also Cummings, after test audiences objected to Chris O’Dowd’s English-accented take on the character!) is as exuberant as ever; and Piglet (Nick Mohammed) remains the voice of caution and cowardice, and as sweet as ever. As “the main ones”, those four get the most to do in the story, but there are also appearances from Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Owl (Toby Jones), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), and Roo (Sara Sheen) to complete the set; and with actors that good providing the voices, they make their mark.

But, really, this is all about Pooh. Well, Pooh and Christopher Robin — the title’s not inaccurate. For those who don’t feel a connection to the bear of very little brain, I guess the familiarity of the narrative he’s part of in this film will drag down enjoyment — this, I presume, is why the reviews have been somewhat mixed. But, in my opinion, a little Pooh goes a long way — as Christopher says, he may be a bear of very little brain, but he’s also a bear of very big heart. The combination makes for a film that is amusing, sweet, and thoroughly delightful.

4 out of 5

Christopher Robin is in UK cinemas now.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

2008 #92
John Lounsbery & Wolfgang Reitherman | 71 mins | DVD | U / G

The Many Adventures of Winnie the PoohHaving finished 2007 with Piglet’s Big Movie, it feels somewhat appropriate to round off 2008 (almost) with Disney’s first Winnie-the-Pooh feature.

The Many Adventures… is actually compiled from three shorts made in 1966, 1968 and 1974, with some new linking material. I don’t know if these shorts were produced with any great expense, but there’s occasional evidence of what looks like cheap animation. It’s not that it’s not smooth or fluid, but rather the attentive viewer will often spot sketch marks around some lines, or flashes of other bits not properly erased. Perhaps it was deliberate, considering the sketchy style of the backgrounds, designed to evoke the original illustrations, but I sometimes found it distracting.

This is one relatively minor flaw in an otherwise brilliant adaptation, however. The film faithfully adapts several of the original stories, acknowledging its sources by frequently showing the action as illustrations within a copy of the book. This fourth-wall-breaking move may irritate some, but personally I loved seeing Pooh and co have to leap from page to page, or tipping the book sideways to free Tigger from a tree. Such moves seem tonally in keeping with A.A. Milne’s original stories and, even though some tales are abridged and some good ones left out, that spirit is always retained.

The characterisation is also spot on, producing an array of cute and loveable creations, none more so than Pooh himself. The gopher is an unnecessary addition, though the running joke about him not being in the book is very nicely done. And one can’t fail to mention the excellent songs, now as linked to the world of Pooh as anything from the original books — especially Tigger’s little tune, surely familiar to anyone who was a child in the last 30 years.

If some later Disney ventures have lost sight of the correct spirit for Pooh’s adventures, at least this original is a great adaptation. Bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, and, above all, fun fun fun fun fun.

5 out of 5