My Top 5 Most-Read New Posts in 2017

Last year I published a Top 5 of my most-read new posts in 2016, mainly to point out that I had no idea why the post that was #1 was #1. This year there’s no such oddness, but as I found it an interesting(-ish) exercise nonetheless, here we go again…

This year, all five of my most-read posts are from my TV review column. I don’t know if the TV-reviewing blogosphere is just less saturated than the film one (I’d wager not) or if the fact I combine multiple series in each post has a massive impact on their popularity (more likely), but they’re what get the biggest numbers for new content.

But this is a film blog (it’s in the title), so this year I’m doing two top fives: the genuine top 5 most-read new posts in 2017, which is also the top 5 most-read new TV-related posts, and then the top 5 most-read new film-related posts.

Without further ado:

The Top 5 Most-Read New Posts in 2017
(aka The Top 5 Most-Read New TV-Related Posts in 2017)

5) The Past Month on TV #21
including Game of Thrones season 7 episodes 2-5, Top of the Lake: China Girl, Twin Peaks season 3 episodes 11-14, Line of Duty series 3 episodes 4-6, Peaky Blinders series 2, The Bletchley Circle series 1 and 2, The Musketeers series 3 episodes 1-3, Sherlock’s pilot, and Wallander series 4 episodes 2-3.

4) The Past Month on TV #13
including A Series of Unfortunate Events season 1, Sherlock series 4, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, the Arrowverse crossover Invasion!, Elementary season 5 episodes 1-3, Outnumbered’s 2016 Christmas special, and the Vicious series finale.

3) The Past Fortnight on TV #22
including Marvel’s The Defenders season 1, Game of Thrones season 7 episodes 6-7, Twin Peaks season 3 episodes 15-16, Designated Survivor season 1, and Rick and Morty season 1 episode 1.

2) The Past Month on TV #16
including Doctor Who series 10 episode 1, Marvel’s Iron Fist season 1, The Flash / Supergirl crossover episode Duet, The Crown season 1, Line of Duty series 2, Twin Peaks season 2 episodes 1-9, 24: Legacy season 1 episodes 5-8, Broadchurch series 3 episodes 4-8, and Unforgotten series 1.

1) The Past Month on TV #15
including 24: Legacy season 1 episodes 1-4, Broadchurch series 3 episodes 1-3, the 89th Academy Awards, Luther series 4, Peaky Blinders series 1, Twin Peaks season 1, Death in Paradise series 6 episodes 7-8, Elementary season 5 episodes 10-13, and Let’s Sing and Dance for Comic Relief series 1 episodes 1-2.

The Top 5 Most-Read New Film-Related Posts in 2017

In 6th to 9th place were more TV posts. The following ranked 10th to =13th overall.

=4) iBoy / Thor: Ragnarok
Netflix original iBoy was released all the way back in January, so had 11 full months to rack up hits. Marvel’s latest adventure, Thor: Ragnarok, came out just over two months ago, but quickly surpassed iBoy… only for iBoy to close the gap again in a small last-minute resurgence, weirdly. They both have hundreds of hits too, so it’s a helluva coincidence they should wind up with exactly the same total.

3) Logan
The second (and last) superhero movie in this top five. Like everything in this list, my review was posted shortly after it hit cinemas — people love new releases.

2) Dunkirk
Christopher Nolan’s almost-arthouse WW2 IMAX-shot epic is, according to most, one of the best films of the year and a frontrunner in the imminent Oscars race. Whether that explains why it got so many hits back in July, I don’t know. It might explain why it got nearly ten times as many hits in December as it did in November, though.

1) Alien: Covenant
Ridley Scott’s second attempt at launching a new trilogy in the Alien universe met with a mixed reception across the board, but excelled in this category at least. It can’t’ve hurt that I posted my review a couple of days before it even came out in the US — if there’s one thing people love more than reviews of recent releases, it’s reviews of things that aren’t even out yet. It hasn’t experienced a recent increase in interest like Dunkirk either, with 70% of those hits acquired in the first two weeks after I posted it. It’s also already my fourth most-read film review of all time. Who’d’ve thunk it?

One final observation…

Looking back at my most-viewed posts in individual months, in 2015 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone came top in ten months and Chamber of Secrets in the other two. Then in 2016 Philosopher’s Stone was my most-viewed post every single month. But in 2017 it’s been top just four times. Fair play, that’s still far more than any other individual post (TV #15 and TV #22 are joint second with two apiece), but it’s gone from being unassailable to being regularly bested. There were even three months — a whole quarter of the year — when it didn’t make the top five.

The days of those two Harry Potter reviews accounting for an obscene proportion of visitors to this blog seem to be over… to be replaced by people looking for TV reviews. Funny old world.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

2016 #182
David Yates | 133 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English | 12A / PG-13

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

When J.K. Rowling wrote the seven-book Harry Potter series, she didn’t just make it all up as she went along — it was well planned in advance. And she didn’t just envisage a seven-book story, either — she built a whole world, including a massive history that is only fleetingly referred to in Potter itself. It’s part of that history that the five-film Fantastic Beasts series is setting out to explore. (Despite sharing a title with a short tie-in book Rowling once wrote, Fantastic Beasts isn’t somehow an adaptation of that tiny tome, despite what some pithily moronic internet commenters who think they’re funny would believe.)

Set many decades before Potter, Fantastic Beasts introduces us to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a British wizard who’s travelled to New York while researching his book on magical creatures — or “fantastic beasts”. There, he finds himself embroiled in a conflict between the local magic council and a puritanical group who want to destroy all wizards, while some creature or force is terrorising the city.

Although labelled by some as a prequel, that’s only technically true — it is set before the Potter stories, but it’s a new story in that universe rather than a tale that leads directly into the existing narrative. As such, it’s pretty newbie friendly. It reuses familiar iconography from Potter, but it does so in neat ways — there are things that are instantly recognisable to fans, but their function is not reliant on familiarity for the sake of newcomers or the less well-versed. It’s also opening up new parts of the Potterverse — or, as they want us to call it now, J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World — primarily, taking us to the USA for the first time.

Fantastic Americans and where to find them

As a new story, it develops its own particular tone and style, distinct from that of the previous movies. That partly comes from the characters we’re following: Potter is about schoolchildren, this is about adults. It’s still a 12A/PG-13, of course, but there’s a lot of wiggle-room within that category. Perhaps this is why some have found it tonally inconsistent, but I enjoyed the mix of whimsy with darkness. The overall effect was good fun, with strong action scenes and some really good — even magical — visuals. The story is bolstered by a couple of well-constructed final act twists. I found at least one to be pretty guessable, but that doesn’t detract from it being put together neatly throughout the film.

As for the widely discussed fact that this is to be the first of five movies, that fortunately doesn’t define this opening instalment. Seeds for future films are obvious because we recognise actors and, as movie-literate viewers, know how films establish things for future use; but leaving that extra-textual knowledge aside, there’s no reason this doesn’t work as a standalone adventure. People who’ve said otherwise are talking poppycock. Even stuff that initially looks like it’s purely franchise-setup has a purpose within this individual movie.

Fantastic Beasts has been dismissed in some quarters as no more than a cash-grab attempt to extend a franchise, but I thought it was one of the most enjoyable blockbusters of 2016.

4 out of 5

100 Films @ 10: Favourite Film Series

Once upon a time, sequels were very much a lesser thing, and making more of them only made things worse. Nowadays we’re almost at the opposite extreme: first movies are routinely designed as setup for the better sequel, and never-ending franchises are all the rage.

Today’s top ten ranks some of my favourite movie series that have been part of 100 Films. Here that means a series with four or more movies (three would just be a trilogy, wouldn’t it?) where I’ve watched at least a couple of them during 100 Films’ life, as well as having seen a significant proportion overall. For instance, I’ve seen the two most recent Planet of the Apes films but none of the original five, so I can’t really judge that as a series.

A big factor herein is acknowledging consistency — one or two great films and a bunch of duds should mean exclusion. For example, the Star Wars series has two unimpeachable classics, and at least two more pretty great movies… but that’s only 57% of the Saga, or just 44% if you count the two theatrically-released spin-offs. Considering the lowly quality of the prequels, how much do they drag down the series as a whole?

You may disagree. Let’s take a look…

10
Marvel Cinematic Universe

If we’re talking about consistency here then the MCU has it in spades: consistently underwhelming villains, consistently bland cinematography, consistently unmemorable music… Ah, but they also have consistently likeable heroes, a consistently light tone, and a consistent ability to be pretty entertaining. None of them are really bad (except the first Captain America, which has its fans anyway), a couple of them even push towards a certain degree of greatness, and overall they are — to paraphrase the description of The Avengers by its writer-director, Joss Whedon — not great movies, but they are each a great time.

Best film: Captain America: Civil War
Weak link: Captain America: The First Avenger
Other reviews: Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk | Iron Man 2 | Thor | Avengers Assemble | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Doctor Strange | + 5 Marvel One-Shots (take a look under ‘shorts’ on my reviews page) and various TV series, including Daredevil season two and Luke Cage season one


9
The Hunger Games

The shortest series in my top ten, this is very much a borderline on my rules — if they’d done the third book as one film, it wouldn’t count. That gives The Hunger Games a certain advantage over the other films here, in that it has one long story to tell across just a handful of movies, rather than trying to refresh itself in some way with each new film. About a group of young people fighting against an oppressive autocratic regime in a future version of America, it’s a future-history of, like, next week. For all the fun of its action theatrics, a series aimed at younger viewers with themes about the dangers of dictators and the potential benefits of and need for a resistance — what some might call “terrorism” — has rarely been more pertinent.

Best film: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Weak link: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Other reviews: The Hunger Games | The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2


8
The Thin Man

Ostensibly a series of murder mysteries, the reason the Thin Man series is such a joy is that the films are more concerned with the screwball-ish relationship between the leads, married detective duo Nick and Nora Charles, played with a certain rakish aplomb by William Powell and Myrna Loy. The mysteries themselves are Christie-esque parlour games and there’s a major role for the pair’s adorable dog. Mix all that together like one of the Charles’ favoured cocktails and they make for similarly splendid entertainment.

Best film: After the Thin Man
Weak link: The Thin Man Goes Home
Other reviews: The Thin Man | Another Thin Man | Shadow of the Thin Man | Song of the Thin Man


7
George A. Romero’s ‘Dead’ Films

With his low-budget horror film Night of the Living Dead, co-writer/director George A. Romero single-handedly created a whole sub-genre: the zombie movie. Although the form eventually degenerated into a miasma of excessive gore, what makes Romero’s films timeless is the way they use the zombies to reflect something else, whether it be basic humanity or wider sections of society. The first two movies (Night and Dawn) are genre-transcending classics, but if we’re talking consistency then I even have a fondness for the underrated fourth instalment, Land of the Dead, and the rush-produced but not meritless sixth, Survival of the Dead. Even the weakest, Diary of the Dead, has more of interest to say than many of its genre stablemates.

Best film: Night of the Living Dead
Weak link: Diary of the Dead
Other reviews: Dawn of the Dead | Day of the Dead | Land of the Dead | Survival of the Dead


6
Sherlock Holmes starring Basil Rathbone

Between 1939 and 1946 Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce starred in 14 Sherlock Holmes films, cementing themselves as the definitive screen interpretation of Holmes and Watson for decades to come — some would say forever. Rather than faithful adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, these liberally remix the best bits into exciting new mysteries and adventures. If that sounds familiar from more modern times, it’s because Sherlock creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are massive fans of the Rathbone/Bruce films, and have never been shy about admitting their influence on how Sherlock adapts the canon. Maybe not one for literary purists, then, but otherwise there’s barely a dud to be found in this entertaining series.

Best film: The Scarlet Claw
Weak link: Pursuit to Algiers
Other reviews: The Hound of the Baskervilles | The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror | Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon | Sherlock Holmes in Washington | Sherlock Holmes Faces Death | The Spider Woman | The Pearl of Death | The House of Fear | The Woman in Green | Terror by Night | Dressed to Kill


5
Batman

You could, not unreasonably, split the Batman movies into multiple sub-series at this point: the four movies from 1989 to 1997, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Batman’s role in the DCEU; plus the ’66 Batman, animated cinema release Mask of the Phantasm, and, now, the LEGO movies. This ranking encompasses them all… more or less. Certainly the live-action ones since ’89, anyway. Yes, that run of movies contains one of the poorest blockbusters of all time (Batman & Robin), but it’s counterbalanced by one of the greatest blockbusters of all time (The Dark Knight), and several others I’d place in the form’s upper echelons (Batman Returns, Batman Begins, maybe one or two more). I’m one of those people who likes Batman v Superman and sees promise in Justice League and The Batman, too, so long may it continue.

Best film: The Dark Knight
Weak link: Batman & Robin
Other reviews: Batman (1966) | Batman (1989) | Batman Returns | Batman Forever | Batman Begins | The Dark Knight Rises | Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (and its Ultimate Edition) | + 8 animated movie reviews (take a look under ‘B’ on my reviews page)


4
Harry Potter

I rarely classify myself as “a Harry Potter fan” because I know the full extent of obsessiveness you get from die-hard Potheads (as I like to call them. I don’t think anyone else does, but I think we should.) It’s no worse than any other dedicated fandom, I’m sure, but I’m not that extreme. Nonetheless, I’m of the right age to have read the books during my childhood (albeit right at the end of my childhood) and do have a fondness for them, as well as for the film adaptations. This is the perfect list for those, because I definitely feel like they’re more than the sum of their parts: each film is at least ‘good’, but few of them stray toward the territory of ‘really great’ — not individually, anyway. As a whole eight-film saga, though, I think they make for an impressive piece of work.

Best film: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Weak link: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Other reviews: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban | Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix | Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince | Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 | Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 | + an overview of the Harry Potter films of David Yates, and also fan edit Wizardhood


3
Mission: Impossible

It’s the second-shortest series on this list, making my following statement comparatively less of an achievement, but still: in my view, there are no bad Mission: Impossible films. They’ve sometimes been given a rough ride down the years, with the first two especially meeting with more than their fair share of criticism, but I’ve enjoyed every one. The most recent is the best, in my opinion, but I don’t think I’d begrudge anyone naming any of the others as their favourite.

Best film: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Weak link: Mission: Impossible III
Other reviews: Mission: Impossible II | Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol


2
X-Men

I feel like I’ve written plenty of introductory overviews to the X-Men at this point in my blogging career — about my near-lifelong love for the series; about its relevance to the modern superhero movie landscape; and so on. As with most of these series, not every entry is perfect, but very few of them are outright bad. Even the black sheep of the series, The Last Stand, isn’t all it could’ve been had director Bryan Singer stuck around, but it often gets an unfair rap — it’s not a bad piece of blockbuster entertainment. On the other end of the spectrum, I think the series’ high points are among the very best superhero movies. By the sounds of things the imminent third Wolverine movie, Logan, only continues that tradition.

Best film: X-Men: First Class
Weak link: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Other reviews: X-Men | X2 | The Wolverine | X-Men: Days of Future Past (and The Rogue Cut) | Deadpool | X-Men: Apocalypse


1
James Bond

With 24 films to date, produced across 53 years, the James Bond films are a series like no other (though, in terms of number of films, the MCU will likely surpass it within the next five years). If we’re talking consistency of quality, then there are probably more underachievers here than in any other series in this top ten… but then there are more films full-stop, so what do you expect? Conversely, there are probably more high points too, be it the era-defining action of the Connery films, the lightness of the better Moore movies, the grit of Dalton, the polished blockbusterdom of Brosnan, or the series’ reinvention as prestige pictures with Craig. Indeed, there’s pretty much a Bond movie for every taste (unless you fundamentally object to enjoying the adventures of a government-sponsored killer, of course). At this point the series seems to be inoculated against any obstacle — they are critic proof, box office proof, almost audience proof. Whatever else happens in this crazy, crazy world, you can be sure of one thing: James Bond will return.

Best film: Casino Royale
Weak link: A View to a Kill
Other reviews: Dr. No | From Russia with Love | Goldfinger | Thunderball | You Only Live Twice | On Her Majesty’s Secret Service | For Your Eyes Only | Octopussy | GoldenEye | Tomorrow Never Dies | Quantum of Solace | Skyfall | Spectre

Tomorrow: an elementary list.

Wizardhood (2016)

2016 #186
edited by Tim Stiefler | 78 mins | download (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English

WizardhoodAt the tail end of last month, a story did the rounds on entertainment sites about a fan edit that took the eight-film, 20-hour Harry Potter series and reduced it into a single movie that ran just 78 minutes — a reduction of over 93%. You see stories about these kind of fan edits all the time (or you do if you read certain sites, anyway), but I usually don’t get round to watching them. I mean, who has time for a dozens-of-hours supercut that puts every piece of footage from every Marvel movie (and short) into chronological order, or whatever? But as I was off to Harry Potter Land — and as it’s less than an hour-and-a-half long — I did make time for Wizardhood (like Boyhood, see?)

(I did debate whether this merited a new number, because it’s a fan edit of other people’s movies; but it’s such a radical restructuring of that material, and (as I’ll come to in a moment) it’s designed to function as a film rather than as a long video summary, so I’ve decided it does count, as would any official major re-edit.)

So how exactly do you go about making such a huge reduction? Is it just a really, really long “previously on”-style montage? No, thank goodness, it isn’t. What editor Tim Stiefler (a 27-year-old New Yorker, if you’re interested) has produced is less an abridgement and more a complete retelling of the Potter story. His cut doesn’t even attempt to tell whole swathes of the story, instead ditching them entirely. Stiefler has clearly tried to make a film out of this material, not just a long précis of the story. That means we don’t just get a series of vital scenes that further the plot. Instead, moments are allowed to play out a bit to convey their emotional impact or their humour. He’s even selected a couple of the series’ many action sequences, presumably based on the points in his cut that benefit from that adrenaline boost — just as you would if you were pacing a ‘real’ film.

Harry Potter and the Streamlined StoryWizardhood focuses in on the main narrative of Harry vs Voldemort, and the need to destroy the Horcruxes. In practice, that means there’s a chunk of Film 1 to establish the world, followed by cursory scenes from Films 2, 3, 4 and 5, mainly for texture and pace, before great chunks of Films 6, 7 and 8 are used to complete the narrative. In the process it also focuses on certain characters. It’s centred around Harry, Ron and Hermione, obviously. The latter two are only really there because they’re always around Harry, although Stiefler makes a decent subplot out of their relationship. Also retaining much of their storylines are Dumbledore and Snape, who both have primary roles in Harry’s story. Draco Malfoy and Neville Longbottom get subplots, again mainly because they have vital roles to play in the main tale. There are a couple of scenes featuring major players like McGonagall, Hagrid, Ginny, and Umbridge, but otherwise every major character is cut: the Dursleys and Sirius Black don’t even appear; the likes of Lupin and Mrs Weasley are in a shot or two without any dialogue; and so on (I’m not going to list everyone!)

It’s a little hard to say how Wizardhood works as a standalone movie, because if you’ve seen all eight films in full then your brain can fill in the gaps. That said, it does seem fairly smooth. It’s so efficiently and cleverly edited that there are barely any lines or moments that aren’t relevant to the version of the story it’s telling, and the excised stuff is so thoroughly removed that you kind of don’t miss it. It’s not the ideal way to view the Harry Potter saga — it loses so much of the texture, the plot, the characters — but as an exercise in telling the series’ primary conflict in a single-film-length way, it’s an impressive piece of work.

4 out of 5

The full Harry Potter series is on ITV daily from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve, beginning with Philosopher’s Stone today at 1:30pm. If you want to see Wizardhood, you’ll have to go looking

Back from the U.S. of A.

I have returned, dear readers! (If you’re thinking “returned from where?”, the last section of this post may be enlightening.)

I left dear old Blighty behind to travel halfway around the world to visit…

London

London

But it’s not like the real London, oh no! Partly because its sense of our capital’s geography is entirely fictional, partly because that frontage hides…

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley

Also because apparently Scotland is both covered with snow and warm enough for shorts…

Hogsmeade

Hogsmeade

If you’ve enjoyed these few holiday snaps, that’s fantastic, because I’ll be sharing 372 more in a series of posts beginning next week!

(Not really.)

Anyway, I’m relatively freshly back, so have a whole pile of comments and posts to catch up on, not to mention actually writing some of my own backlog of reviews. And getting on with wrapping up 100 Favourites — indeed, #100 is tomorrow.

The Up-to-Date Monthly Update for November 2016

The penultimate monthly update for 2016 has a higher-than-usual compliment of films from 2016. How up-to-date of me.


#172 Bridesmaids (2011)
#173 Love & Friendship (2016)
#174 Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)
#175 The Pianist (2002)
#176 Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
#177 Swiss Army Man (2016)
#178 Suicide Squad (2016)
#179 Arrival (2016)
#180 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
#181 The Deer Hunter (1978)
#182 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
#183 Star Trek Beyond (2016)
#184 Napoleon (1927), aka Napoléon vu par Abel Gance
#185 Jason Bourne (2016)
Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

.


  • I watched 14 new films again this month (same as last). That makes this my 30th consecutive month with 10 or more new films.
  • As I mentioned, there were quite a few films from 2016. The total is ten, to be precise, or 71.4% of this month’s viewing. I’ll rate them when I review them, but scroll down to the Arbies for more about which I liked and disliked.
  • I spent three nights watching the 5½ hours of Abel Gance’s Napoleon, which made its hotly-anticipated Blu-ray debut this month. Still only counts as one film, though.
  • Making up for last month, I found time for two WDYMYHS films. Both are excoriating depictions of wartime: Roman Polanski’s story of life in the Warsaw ghettoes during World War 2, The Pianist; and Michael Cimino’s controversial take on the Vietnam war and its effect on (American) combatants, The Deer Hunter.



The 18th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Quite a few enjoyable films this month, particularly among all those 2016 ones, but the one of the highest quality was definitely Denis Villeneuve’s venture into science-fiction drama, Arrival.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, the weakest film this month also comes from 2016. I wanted to find the critics were wrong and side with the audiences who boosted it into the top 75 highest grossing films of all time, but no, Suicide Squad is a disappointing mess.

Longest Film of the Year (So Far)
I watched the ’59 Ben-Hur back in September, a film whose notoriously epic running time — 222 minutes, or 3¾ hours — would, most years, stand as unlikely to be surpassed. Thanks to the BFI, however, it has: Abel Gance’s silent epic Napoleon is a full 111 minutes longer at 333 minutes, aka 5½ hours.

Most Consistent Use of a Song
They’re back again: after 14 years and five films, Jason Bourne still ends with Moby’s Extreme Ways, just like every other film in the series. Never may it end.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
I confess to being slightly surprised by this month’s most-seen post. Besting several new releases (Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders was 2nd) and all-time favourites (Star Wars was 3rd), this month’s victor was my review of Denis Villeneuve’s arty psychological thriller Enemy.



Films that broke new ground rub shoulders with ones that settled into comfortable grooves, with everything from children’s movies about toys to adult movies about puppets.


As regular readers may have ascertained from the occasional reference I’ve made, I’m going to be away for a chunk of December. It’s not actually some big secret, it just wasn’t especially pertinent ’til now. We’re off on a family holiday to Hogwarts… in sunny Orlando, Florida. And all the other stuff, like Disney World and the Kennedy Space Center, all that jazz; but it was inspired by, as grown-up adult human beings, wanting to go to the Harry Potter theme parks. Something something for all ages, something something young at heart, etc.

So as this is posted, I’m currently… sat at home in the UK, because we fly tomorrow. Anyway, that means this blog will be quieter than normal for a bit — and as I’m away for 72% of the time it would cover, no advent calendar this year. I know I’m severely damaging your enjoyment of the holiday season, but it can’t be helped. Sorry. I’d love to tell you that I nonetheless have a mass of reviews scheduled to post so it’ll be like I’m not even gone, but I don’t. However, my 100 Favourites will continue as advertised (next up: #95 on Sunday), and there will be a couple of other reviews scattered in between, too. I may check in on comments from time to time as well, what with the connectivity of our modern world — so don’t be a stranger, y’hear?

It’ll undoubtedly have an effect on how many films I watch, though — will December destroy the 30-month run of 10+ films?!

Alan Rickman, 1946—2016

I rarely break from reviewing on this blog, but I think I can afford such a courtesy to Alan Rickman.

In part this is because, after I heard the news, I realised he’s been a constant presence throughout my film-loving life. I adored Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as a kid, when the American accents didn’t matter and it was a glossy big-budget extravaganza. I watched it a few years ago, and it no longer looks glossy, big budget, or particularly extravaganza-y, but Alan Rickman shines as arguably the best Sheriff of Nottingham ever to grace the screen.

Then there’s the role that has obviously defined him for a generation: Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. I’m sure casting the Potter films must’ve been a tricky business, but Rickman as Snape was one of those choices where you just think, “well, obviously.” A pretty one-dimensional character to begin with (The Mean Teacher), Snape has a significant and complicated role as the series goes on, and is probably the most nuanced character in it by the end. Having an actor of Rickman’s ability involved was obviously beneficial.

And as I got older still, there was Die Hard. His film debut at age 42, and the film that will always define him for many, but (again) it’s a magnificent performance, a definitive villain. Pretty much every action-thriller villain for the next, what, decade? more? is really a rip-off of Hans Gruber, however all portrayed by whichever British actor was currently available.

Those are just three keystones in a sea (mixed metaphor much) of fantastic movies and excellent performances that have been scattered throughout my viewing life: the Spock-ish thespian in Galaxy Quest; the punk-y angel in Dogma; the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film (another spot of perfect casting); the adulterous(?) husband in one of Love Actually’s strongest yet most divisive stories. Several of these films are to come on my 100 Favourites; several more were in contention; and, in every case, a significant reason for their presence was Alan Rickman’s performance.

And if you ever forget that life isn’t fair, remember this:

So we've lost 69-year-olds Bowie, Lemmy (ok 70-year-old) and now Alan Rickman – but Donald Trump is still with us.

2014 in Review, Part 1

It’s that time of year again, dear readers, when we look back at all that has occurred over the past 12 months.

Coming soon: my final monthly summary of 2014, about December (obv.); the full list of my 2014 viewing, with all the exciting statistics; and my summary of the highs (top ten!), lows (bottom five!) and in betweens (50 films I missed!)

But first, the now-traditional WordPress-provided summary of how many people bothered to visit my blog and which pages they bothered to visit:

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Notes:

  • It wasn’t just new posts that grew the archive of the blog: 145 reposts from 2007-2011 helped increase the tally from last year’s 552.
  • My Harry Potter 1&2 reviews remain dominant, and I think will for all time.
  • I like that new “posting patterns” bit, even if it does show up how rarely I posted reviews for a good chunk of the year.

Tomorrow: my December summary.

The Harry Potter Films of David Yates

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the
Order of the Phoenix

2013 #45a
Original review here.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Harry Potter and the
Half-Blood Prince

2013 #47a
Original review here.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

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Harry Potter and the
Deathly Hallows: Part 1

2013 #48a
Original review here.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

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Harry Potter and the
Deathly Hallows: Part 2

2013 #52a
Original review here.


2007-2011 | 568 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | UK & USA / English | 12 / PG-13

When David Yates joined the Harry Potter series halfway through, as the director of its fifth instalment, his main prior experience was in TV — quite a change from the series’ track record, which had included acclaimed or successful movie directors. But he seemed a wise choice nonetheless: one of his stand-out works on TV was State of Play, a complex conspiracy series that suggested he’d be the right man to handle Order of the Phoenix for two reasons. Firstly, the novel includes a significant ‘resistance thriller’ aspect, similar to the edgy underground-investigation style of State of Play. Secondly, the lengthy novel was to be condensed into a single reasonable-length film, necessitating an ability to tell a story clearly and concisely. State of Play may not have been concise (it’s a six-hour story, after all), but it was complicated and it was clear.

The resulting film is, arguably, one of the series’ strongest because it is so different to the others. If the much-discussed ‘darkening’ of the films really kicked in with Goblet of Fire and the death of Cedric Diggory, Phoenix only cements this tone. Our heroes are persecuted throughout — and not just the lead kids, but Dumbledore and the rest of the Hogwarts establishment too, as a Ministry of Magic in denial about the return of Voldemort seeks to crush the dissenting voices of Harry and his headmaster.

Evil witchTheir main weapon is Dolores Umbridge, perhaps the series’ most despicable villain, because she is so horrendously plausible. She seems to be all sweetness and light, but it masks a dangerous streak that sees her eliminate any fun from the school and, in one of the most sadistic sequences in either the novels or the films, she has Harry write lines with a magic quill that cuts each one into the skin of his left hand. The Potter series actually has its share of nuanced villains, but Umbridge is thoroughly unlikeable. Though she’s defeated and carted off at the end of Phoenix, she resurfaces in Deathly Hallows. I don’t recall if her final fate is expounded upon, on page or screen, but I’d quite like to see her ripped to shreds.

In one of the numerous special features on the Harry Potter Blu-rays, producer David Heyman notes that most directors finish a film of Potter’s scope and want a rest, or at least a change of pace. It’s why Alfonso Cuarón and Mike Newell only have one each to their name; it’s why the Bond films haven’t had two back-to-back entries from the same director since the ’80s; and so on. Not so Yates, however, who ended Phoenix hungry for more. Or hungry to establish a film career, take your pick. And so he also took on the next film, Half-Blood Prince.

It’s easy to accuse Half-Blood Prince of being all prelude to the climactic events of Deathly Hallows; it certainly feels that way first time through. There’s considerably more to it than that, even if the titular mystery is barely a subplot — especially in the film version where, once again, the sheer length of the novel necessitates massive cuts to the source text. But perhaps the most remarkable thing is how funny the film is. Between the return of Voldemort, the suspicion cast on Harry, and a devastating final battle, Phoenix is an incredibly gloomy film; as things roll towards the climax, packed with more deaths and villain victories, Deathly Hallows is too; and sandwiched in between, with one of the saga’s most gut-wrenching finales, you’d think Half-Blood Prince would be more of the same.

Comedy romanceBut not so. Yates approached his follow-up with a stated aim of introducing more comedy, believing the three leads to be talented in that area but not having had a chance to show it in his dour first film. So here we get a whole subplot given over to Ron’s attempts to join the Quidditch team, as well as much focus on the trio’s romantic entanglements — teenage love always being a good topic for humour. The film is not without its dark side, but peppered liberally throughout are those comedic subplots and scenes that are liable to see the viewer laugh perhaps more than in any other Potter film. It’s easy to miss this element — the main plot is, as always, getting darker and more serious — but once it’s been highlighted (as the makers do in the film’s special features) I think it becomes very noticeable.

Perhaps the other most notable aspect of Half-Blood Prince is the cinematography. Like most of cinema throughout the ’00s, the Harry Potter series shows a gradual shift from a very filmic look, to digital intermediates, to (in some cases) a wholly digital output. This is where it becomes most notable, I feel, with many sequences (especially those involving extensive CGI, like the Quidditch) graded and smoothed to the point where they look almost like a concept art painting rather than a real-life sequence. This is especially obvious if you watch any clip-laden series-spanning documentary, where Half-Blood Prince clips rub shoulders with any previous film and stand out like a sore thumb; but even in the movie itself, without that outside context, it’s sometimes highly noticeable.

The other thing it is is dark — not the story, but the visuals. This reaches its nadir in Deathly Hallows (both parts), which include some shots so dark it looks like some light-black shapes may, perhaps, if you squint and strain, be moving over some dark-black shapes. It’s ridiculous. I have no idea if it functioned OK in the cinema, but on a TV at home it most definitely does not. This seems to be a growing trend in films, though the Potter finale contains some of the worst examples I’ve yet seen. I don’t know the reason, but I presume it’s a tech thing — cameras that can function better in low light; In search of a light-switchgrading the film in perfectly-calibrated conditions so they can really push it to extremes, not considering how most end-users will view it; and, much like fast-cut action scenes, an over-familiarity with the material that means the director/editor/grader can see what’s going on because they’ve watched it dozens (or hundreds) of times, which doesn’t work for a first-time viewer in the middle of the film. As you may be able to guess, I’m not a fan.

By the time of these final two films, it seems Yates has moved from being a TV director skilled in complex plotting, to one very much at home with big effects-driven set pieces. The Battle of Hogwarts, which consumes around 90 minutes of the final film, is an epic and often jaw-dropping affair, though still laced through with the final plot developments and the completion of various character arcs. That said, it’s far from perfect, undermined by a pair of apparently opposing sets of decisions: on the one hand, to flesh out fan-favourite moments to give them too much emphasis (Mrs Weasley’s duel with Bellatrix is over-played; Harry and Voldemort’s final confrontation is amped up to the point it loses the book’s emotion); on the other, slavish faithfulness leaving some moments without enough emphasis.

The biggest crime of the latter is the very end: the battle over, Harry, Ron and Hermione stand outside Hogwarts, survey some of the damage, have a little chat… and then it abruptly cuts to a couple of decades later for the epilogue. For me, it doesn’t feel as if there’s enough space there, enough time to breathe, to consider the impact on the series’ supporting cast — many of them favourite characters, as vitally important to the viewer as they are to the lead trio. How will the Weasleys cope with their losses? What about those others who have lost almost everyone they hold dear? Where have the Malfoys gone? There are nods to this in a montage around the Great Hall / makeshift mortuary, but it feels underplayed; like we need a scene of life-goes-on normality set a few weeks or months later, Epiloguenot a sudden smash-cut to a few decades on where we see how some characters’ lives have developed. I know some people complain about Lord of the Rings’ multitudinous endings but, one, they’re wrong, and two, Potter only has one and an epilogue — sure, the first completes the drive of the storyline and the second is a neat coda, but in between I feel we need more of a character-based resolution.

But hey-ho, it is what it is.

In the end, the TV director hired for a very specific filmmaking skill wound up in charge of exactly half the Harry Potter series. If there was a half to have a single voice in charge of, it’s this one, with one long narrative permeating the films in a way it doesn’t the first four. And yet, for that, each has a distinctive style and voice — well, apart from the two parts of Deathly Hallows, which are really one long film split into halves. Was it the right move, for the series? It clearly produced popular movies, but, thanks to the storyline, it’s already easy to regard the Potter series as four or five stories rather than seven, the last three books merging into one epic tale in three acts — a trilogy, if you will — rather than discrete stories, like the first four. By putting the same man behind the camera for them all, the films just emphasise this point. But maybe that doesn’t matter.


The Complete CollectionIt’s hard to offer a final summary of the Harry Potter series. Some people see them as mediocre and overblown; for others, they are their life. Personally, I think they develop from sometimes-uncertain roots in the early films, to a flourishing series of epic fantasy movies. There are often niggles of one kind or another, be it acting (I forgot to discuss Emma Watson’s eyebrows!), or cartoonish designs, or too-faithful adaptation, or abbreviated adaptation, or what have you — but none of these are ever-present. More importantly, every film offers something to enjoy, and the growing maturity — of not only the cast, but also the filmmaking — means their impact only increases when viewed as an entire eight-film saga.

One for the ages? Movie and genre fans of a certain age might say, “don’t be so daft”; but I wouldn’t be so certain.

Vote: your favourite Harry Potter

For the first time ever I’m going to try to poll my readers. This could be terribly embarrassing when I only get three votes… if that…

Those of you who read April’s update will know that I’m halfway through a re-watch of the Harry Potter series. My fresh reviews of the first four films are already online, not to mention my original-viewing thoughts on the final four; and I’ll also contribute new thoughts on the entire David Yates-directed run in the next three or four weeks.

So until that time, I have a question for you: which is your favourite Harry Potter film? Or, if you’d rather, which is the empirical best? Or, if you hate them but have for some reason seen them all anyway, the least-worst?

Do you prefer the uncovering of magic in Philosopher’s Stone? The mystery of the Chamber of Secrets? The fresh direction brought by Prisoner of Azkaban? The action-packed excitement of Goblet of Fire? The resistance thriller that’s emphasised in Order of the Phoenix? The encroaching darkness of Half-Blood Prince? The tension-mounting ‘urban’ thriller hiding in Deathly Hallows Part 1? Or the cathartic, explosive final act of Deathly Hallows Part 2?

Vote now — there can be only one! (Wait, no, wrong long-running fantasy franchise…)