Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

2020 #153
David Dobkin | 123 mins | streaming (UHD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English & Icelandic | 12 / PG-13

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

The Eurovision Song Contest: if you’re from Europe or Australia, or one of the other countries that competes but isn’t really in Europe, it needs no introduction. If you’re from somewhere that hasn’t been enjoying/subjected to it every year for the past seven decades… well, it’s hard to explain. Actually, the basics are easy: it’s a continent-wide song competition, where each participating country submits one artist performing one song, and everyone votes for the winner. But, oh, the cultural connotations and ramifications are so, so much more! For some countries, it’s deadly serious — it’s a way to get noticed on the world stage; it may even make the artist famous. For others, like us Brits, it’s a big campy silly joke… except we’re also rather fond of it (some of us), and we’re terribly annoyed that we don’t win it every year (or at least on a regular basis. Like, once a decade or so would probably keep us happy). And that’s just scratching the surface — it would probably take a book (or, at least, a reasonably long article) to fully explain every nuance.

Will Ferrell’s latest comedy attempts to distill all that history into a globally-friendly movie-length spoof. It’s a big ask, not just because there’s so much background information to assimilate, but because us Brits have been ripping the piss out of Eurovision for decades. And not just sometimes, but constantly: each country provides a local commentary over the live broadcast, and each year ours is basically a roast. (Notoriously so: some countries are not impressed by the sarcastic, piss-taking attitude being our ‘official’ stance on the contest.) We’re not alone, either: a few years ago when Sweden hosted the contest, they did a pitch-perfect sketch about creating the perfect Eurovision song. If you want to get a feel for the entire Eurovision experience in just six minutes, watch Love Love Peace Peace.

And so with all that in mind, Ferrell and co are on a hiding to nothing; especially as the film has been made with the cooperation and endorsement of Eurovision’s producer, the EBU (they even get a credit right up front), so it was never going to be able to truly get stuck in for fear of offending its subject. So I guess that’s why they barely even bothered. Oh, there are certainly references to and riffs on Eurovision-y things, so viewers in the know can pick up on them and not feel like it’s about Generic Foreign Singing Contest; but this isn’t really a comedy about Eurovision, it’s about a small-town music duo wanting to make it big. Their chosen method is Eurovision, but it could just as well be The X Factor or The Voice or, well, anything, and it wouldn’t change the core narrative.

And a man in a hamster wheel

Said narrative goes through all the motions you’d expect. About the only thing that could be described as a twist is that the smarmy “bad buy” isn’t actually up to anything evil after all, he’s genuinely quite nice. As he’s another contestant, you do wonder if that was an EBU stipulation… The man in question is the Russian entry, Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens, who’s excellent as usual), renowned as a “sex player” and the subject of an overlong bit about how he probably has a massive penis. “Overlong” is the watchword for most of the comedic routines in the movie. It’s a form of self indulgence that plagues many a comedy nowadays, and here it helps contribute to a running time that’s simply too long. I always feel like the best comedies are within sight of 90 minutes, but this runs a full two hours. Of course, a comedy made for a famously hands-off studio like Netflix is hardly likely to be exempt from indulgence. Maybe a more interfering one would’ve questioned the wisdom of letting Ferrell include a bit where his character criticises American tourists for coming to Europe and ruining it. Um… It could work in a meta way, but it feels like it’s lacking any kind of knowing wink, beyond it’s very existence.

One thing that does often work are the songs. You may well have heard Volcano Man when Netflix released it as the first promo for the film, but Fire Saga themselves get two or three more numbers, all of which are varying degrees of “surprisingly catchy”. The one they sing as the climax even made me feel a little emotional. I expect it’s the manipulation of the key changes or whatever (I’m no musician), because I didn’t really feel invested in the characters’ relationship before that point, but hey, if it works it works. Then there are the other contestants… where, unfortunately, the film drops the ball again. Lemtov’s number, Lion of Love, clearly had the most effort put into it — it’s quite fun and very Eurovisiony. But a montage of other acts is weird because it feels like it’s been edited to emphasise the jokes, only there aren’t any. I’m not even being clever, saying “there aren’t any” because I didn’t find them funny — the lyrics aren’t humorous, the staging isn’t particularly laughable… they’re just mediocre songs. It’s a wasted opportunity to provide some quick-fire riffs on Eurovision staples. The best it can do is the first of the montage, a rock song by guys in monster costumes — a reference to Lordi, who won in 2006. As far as I remember, no one has tried the same trick in the intervening 14 years.

Lion of Love

The weirdest musical number comes halfway through: at a party Lemtov is hosting for all the contestants, a “song-along” breaks out. Not a singalong, a “song-along”. Suddenly, a bunch of previous real Eurovision contestants show up (much to the bafflement of viewers who’ve never seen the real thing, I suspect) to sing a medley of… songs. Not Eurovision songs, just… songs. Well, Waterloo is in there, but I think that was the only one. It sort of almost works as a kind of mid-film celebration of the real Eurovision, but it’s all so random. Why isn’t it a medley of previous Eurovision tracks? Who even are some of the singers? (I recognised most but not all.) Do people who aren’t fans even get what’s going on during that sequence? It’s a cheesy but potentially fun idea, which I’d embrace wholeheartedly if I felt they’d nailed it. Or even if they’d just had them all cover Love Love Peace Peace.

Yet for all the film’s faults, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. By sticking to tried and tested plot beats and gags, it has an unchallenging comfortableness. There are laughs along the way — some are just echoes of better versions, yeah (most notably, a bit that’s almost jumping through hoops to avoid Rachel McAdams repeating her iconic line from Game Night. It would’ve been better if they’d just leaned into it and let it be a meta-gag), but there were a couple that caught me with a genuine chuckle.

Sporadically funny; often dated; with tired and rehashed routines; longer than Alexander Lemtov’s penis; and surprisingly emotional at the end… Actually, maybe The Story of Fire Saga is like Eurovision after all.

3 out of 5

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is available on Netflix now.

Extraction (2020)

2020 #88
Sam Hargrave | 116 mins | streaming (UHD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English, Hindi & Bengali | 18 / R

Extraction

Chris “Thor” Hemsworth stars in this action-thriller masterminded by the Russo brothers (directors of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame) and directed by Sam Hargrave, who has dozens of stunt coordinating credits to his name, including three Hunger Games, Atomic Blonde, and work on six Marvel Studios movies. But don’t take all those MCU connections to heart — this is not a Marvel-style PG-13 action-comedy. Oh no.

We first meet mercenary Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) engaged in a gunfight on a bridge. He’s covered in wounds, spitting up blood, looks like he’s about to die. Cut to two days earlier! No, really, it’s one of those openings. They just won’t bloody die. Never mind “skip titles” or “watch credits”, Netflix needs to add a “skip pointless in media res prologue” button. It would improve almost any film/TV episode where it was featured.

Anyway, two days earlier we’re introduced to Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal). Just an ordinary, well-to-do schoolboy in India… except his dad’s an imprisoned drug kingpin, and when Ovi slips out to a club one evening he’s kidnapped by goons from the competition, run by the thoroughly ruthless Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli). With daddy behind bars, it falls to Saju (Randeep Hooda) to get the kid back, for which he hires some organisation, I guess — the film is incredibly light on specifics here. Basically, it involves Nik (Golshifteh Farahani) sending in Mr Rake and a support team to extract the kid. Naturally the mission goes sideways, leaving it up to Rake alone to get Ovi and himself out of a city crawling with henchman and corrupt cops who are all out to get them.

School's out

Of course, Rake has issues in his backstory, and rescuing the kid becomes more than just a job, etc, etc. The “Man on Fire Lite” plot is as predictable as this sentence ending with a simile. When David Harbour turns up halfway through as an old mate of Rake’s who lives in the city and agrees to help him out, I’ll be surprised if you can’t guess what inevitably happens a couple of scenes later. Though it is amusingly bold of the film to try to make us believe David “dad bod” Harbour could hold his own in a fight against Chris “literally a Norse God” Hemsworth.

That minor brawl aside, the action sequences are great, more than making up for the lightweight plot mechanics. Letting stunt coordinators move into full-on directing has been the saviour of the action movie genre in recent years, working wonders for the John Wick series in particular, but also several other movies that have followed suit. Hargrave is the latest to suggest he might have a bright career ahead of him on the basis of his ability to stage electrifyingly choreographed combat scenes. The action is fast and hard-hitting; not unnecessarily horror-movie gory like it was in fellow Netflix actioner 6 Underground, but certainly not PG-13 material either. Clearly Netflix don’t force the makers of their expensive movies to hit that PG-13, presumably tied to not having to worry about box office takings. One advantage of going direct to streaming.

The highlight of the film is undoubtedly an already-much-discussed 11½-minute single-take action sequence. We’ve seen plenty of these trick shots in the past few years (Atomic Blonde and, obviously, 1917 particularly come to mind), but Extraction offers another belter. It starts as a full-blown car chase, which transitions into a game of cat-and-mouse around a warren-like apartment block, then tumbles into a mano-a-mano knife duel on a busy street, before ending in a second car chase. Obviously there are myriad hidden cuts in there, but that’s almost beside the point: it’s not physically doing it in one long shot that’s impressive, it’s the design and choreography and planning and execution to make it feel like one. It pays off handsomely.

Street fighter

You wonder if Netflix might look to turn Extraction into a franchise — in many non-English-speaking countries it’s been titled Tyler Rake, which might suggest that’s what they’re thinking. But then, they could’ve retitled it that in English if they wanted, so maybe not. It’s not the most sophisticated thriller ever made, and it doesn’t reach the giddy heights of John Wick in the action department, but it’s nonetheless entertaining at what it sets out to achieve. If they do decide to make more, I’ll definitely be there.

4 out of 5

Extraction is available on Netflix now.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

aka Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta

2020 #12
Hayao Miyazaki | 125 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | Japan / English | PG / PG

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

The names Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli go hand-in-hand (I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if quite a few people think they’re synonymous, i.e. that all Ghibli films are directed by Miyazaki), but his first two features (The Castle of Cagliostro and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) were produced before Ghibli’s formation. So it’s Laputa, his third film, that is actually Ghibli’s first — which makes it appropriate to look at today, as it’s also one of the first titles being made available under Netflix’s new deal with Ghibli.* (Though if you search Netflix for “Laputa”, you won’t find it.)

Acclaimed as one of the first major works in the steampunk subgenre, Laputa takes place in a Mitteleuropean alternate past — the architecture is inspired by Welsh mining villages; the uniforms and hardware by historical German military; there are steam-powered automobiles and flying machines; but there’s also magic-like stuff, so it’s not just tech-based. In this world we meet Sheeta (voiced in Disney’s English dub by Anna Paquin, retaining her New Zealand accent), a young girl wanted by both the military and sky pirates for a necklace she wears. When she falls from an aircraft, the necklace glows and lowers her gently to the ground — and into the life of Pazu (James “Dawson’s Creek” Van Der Beek), a young orphan who immediately resolves to help her. And so off they go on an adventure to find out just what’s so desirable about Sheeta’s necklace, and what it has to do with the legendary flying city of Laputa.

If you watched Miyazaki’s first three movies ignorant of the knowledge they came from the same writer-director, I’m sure you’d work it out for yourself. It’s an action-packed adventure laced with humour and morally grey characters, like Cagliostro, with a well-imagined fantasy world populated by flying machines and brave young heroines, like Nausicaä. But it’s no act of self-plagiarism — Miyazaki is too inventive for that. His world-building is first rate, sketching in the details of this alternate reality in between character building scenes and thrilling action sequences. If this were live-action, it would make an exemplary action/adventure blockbuster, so well paced and structured is it.

The castle in the sky

That’s why it immediately clicked with me as an instant favourite among both Miyazaki’s and Ghibli’s oeuvre. It’s unquestionably an adventure movie, so it lacks the heartfelt depths of something like My Neighbour Totoro, but it’s at least the equal of Cagliostro in terms of how wildly exciting the set pieces are. And it’s not as if it’s totally empty headed, touching on longstanding universal themes like the corruption of power, and with a minor-key ecological message too (another Miyazaki staple).

I always feel like I should watch anime in Japanese, and I often do, but when the English voice cast includes Mark Hamill, well, that’s good enough for me. He’s the villain, channeling a certain amount of his Joker (but not too much) into a government secret agent in pursuit of Sheeta and in search of Laputa. He’s just one of a memorable cast of characters — I mean, did I mention there were sky pirates? They’re as awesome as they sound, bringing both broad humour and fuelling several action scenes (you’d expect nothing less of frickin’ sky pirates, right?) One of the most memorable characters transcends the language barrier: a giant speechless robot, questionably friend or foe, who leaves a mark almost as great as the Iron Giant’s but in considerably less screen time. (Considering how much Pixar are renowned fans of Miyazaki, and that Brad Bird made Iron Giant over a decade after Laputa’s debut, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was at least a little cross-pollination.)

Like any good blockbuster, Laputa has it all: thrills, humour, emotion, wonder… It’s the complete package. Plus, that level of broad familiarity (it wouldn’t take too many steps to imagine this remade as a Hollywood blockbuster, although they’d inevitably mess it up somehow) probably makes it the perfect starting point for any newbies to anime or Ghibli.

5 out of 5

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is available on Netflix from today.

* If the news passed you by: Netflix have acquired the rights to 21 Studio Ghibli films (that is, their whole back catalogue of features except Grave of the Fireflies, which has separate rights issues, plus Nausicaä) for most of the world (the USA, Canada, and Japan are excluded). They’re being released in three batches of seven — the first lot today, the next on March 1st, and the final ones on April 1st. As well as Laputa, today’s selection includes My Neighbour Totoro, which I reviewed here, plus Kiki’s Delivery Service, Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso, Ocean Waves, and Tales from Earthsea. ^

The Past Christmas on TV

Continuing the spirit of publishing things about ten days late, here’s my Christmas TV review, about ten days after the season ended. (And if you’re thinking, “um, Christmas was 18 days ago,” well, the TV ‘Christmas’ season goes on until at least January 1st here, so there.)

Santa Goes Wrong
Here’s Santa to rekindle your festive spirit.
With alcohol.

This is now my fourth annual Christmas TV post, would you believe. I still feel like TV reviews are a fairly recent addition to this blog, but nope, it’s been four years. And this is, in a way, a vintage year, what with the Gavin & Stacey revival becoming the most-watched Christmas Day broadcast in something like 17 years; and, even more impressively, it was the only scripted programme to make the top ten TV broadcasts of the decade (the rest going to sporting events and one random episode of The X Factor).

As for whether it was any good, and what I thought of other stuff that was on… well, read on…

Doctor Who  Spyfall
Doctor Who: SpyfallFor the first time in 14 years, since the series returned, there was no Doctor Who Christmas/New Year special. Gasp! At least we got the first episodes of a new series, though — two slightly-longer-than-normal instalments (at 60 minutes each, which doesn’t feel that special when regular episodes are 50 minutes now). And a two-parter, too — the first of those since 2017. And a big two-parter at that, with big-name guest stars and big action sequences and big overseas locations.

Yep, this is Doctor Who with a bang — a marked contrast to last series, which mostly went for understated. Well, as understated as modern Doctor Who gets, anyway. But whereas series 11 had no two parters and no returning monsters and, as I say, a markedly calmer pace and tone, series 12 begins with the antithesis of all of that. In case you’ve not seen it I shan’t spoil the end-of-part-one reveal, which was a massive delight that I did not see coming (I guess someone learnt a lesson from last time that villain returned, when the production team basically spoiled it themselves before anyone else could). That was the highlight of an episode that moved at a mile a minute, not pausing to let you consider the logic of what was going on (which, yeah, was not faultless). But while it may not have been perfect, I’m glad to see a return for this fun, exciting version of the show. I didn’t find series 11 a total washout (I think my reviews as it was airing were mostly positive, even), but overall I felt like something wasn’t quite working.

Well, let’s be honest, what wasn’t working is showrunner Chris Chibnall. His episodes under previous showrunners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat were never the very best (and I say that as someone who likes them more than most), but without their oversight to guide him, he seemed a bit lost. He’s a long-time fanboy of the show (somewhat famously, he appeared on a viewer feedback show in the ’80s to slag off the quality of the writing), and at times last series it felt like he was writing for the show as he’d loved it as a kid (that is to say, a bit slow-paced and old-fashioned). Now, possibly taking some of the criticism on board (or possibly just trying to mix it up), he’s attempting to emulate the whoosh-bang blockbuster-but-quirky style of RTD and Moffat. What he can’t grasp is their effortless-seeming slickness — when they rushed over something it was usually because “it makes sense if you think about it”, whereas Chibnall is trying to cover a logic gap; conversely, when there’s no gap to be hidden, he has characters mercilessly over-explain everything, I guess for the sake of anyone who’s just walked in.

So, not perfect, but I thought Part 1 was a blast nonetheless. Sadly, I was much less enamoured with Part 2 — a virtually nonsensical runaround through time, which didn’t seem to know what to do with everything that had been put in play, just throwing “more” at us until the Doctor basically said “time for the story to end now”, and so the baddies disappeared and that was that. Apart from an epilogue, which was quite intriguing — and dove head first into full-on mythology territory, something the series studiously avoided last year. Whether Chibnall’s got anywhere good to go with what he’s teasing, God only knows (I fear not, based on the evidence), but it’s a welcome bit of business that will hopefully jazz up the season to come.

Gavin & Stacey  A Special Christmas
Gavin & Stacey: A Special ChristmasI won’t recap Gavin & Stacey’s ratings success (what with already having mentioned it at the start), nor will I touch on the controversy around its use of Fairytale of New York (I kind of get why people complained, but also, the song is the song). As for the episode itself, well, I thought it was masterful. It may be nine years since the last episode, but it was like they hadn’t been away. Not that they tried to ignore the passage of time — clearly, the best part of a decade had passed in the characters’ lives, and naturally changes had come with that — but the characters and performances felt true to their old selves, as if they’d never stopped playing them, with the rhythms and comedic style of the show fully intact. Some decade-later revivals feel like new shows — the writers have forgotten how to write it properly; the cast have forgotten how to play it right — but not this one. This was bang on what it should be. Tidy.

Dracula
Dracula“From the makers of Sherlock”, declared the publicity for this new adaptation of the Victorian novel — so you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a present-day reimagining. But it wasn’t. Well, until it was.

This new Dracula is very much a tale of three parts, and not just because it was in three 90-minute episodes. While undoubtedly a serial, each episode was almost a standalone instalment, which was a structural trick I quite liked — it doesn’t feel like you’re watching one four-and-a-half-hour work broken into three by the necessities of the schedule, but rather three separate-but-connected works. And I really, really liked the first two.

The Rules of the Beast is what you most expect of Dracula: a spooky Transylvanian castle; “I don’t drink… wine”; mild little Englishman Jonathan Harker discovering terrible secrets… Of course, writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss didn’t shy away from bringing a few affectations and twists to the piece, but I thought they all worked well. Claes Bang makes for a fantastic Dracula (a comment that holds true throughout the series), the rest of the cast were very good as well, and there were some proper horror bits — this adaptation was not, ahem, toothless.

The second instalment, Blood Vessel, dealt with Dracula’s voyage to England aboard the Demeter — a part usually more or less glossed over in other adaptations, as far as I know. But here Moffat and Gatiss spin it out into a full 90-minutes, kind of like a slasher movie set in a confined location, albeit we know whodunnit — so, naturally, there are other twists to be found. Again, I liked this a lot — the way it felt respectful to the source while also expanding and refreshing it; the interesting supporting cast; some very impressive production work (they built the entire ship on a soundstage!)

Then we get to episode three, The Dark Compass. There’s no way to talk about what happens here without spoiling it, so if you haven’t watched the series yet and are intending to, look away now. If you have watched it, you’ll know this episode jumps the action forward 123 years to 2020. And you also probably hated it, because it seems almost everyone did. My feelings were slightly more nuanced. In my opinion, its biggest mistake is that it’s a completely different show. Sure, we still have Claes Bang playing Dracula (and he’s still excellent), and we still have Moffat and Gatiss’s recognisable stylings in the dialogue and whatnot, but the entire setup has shifted. Judged in isolation, as a present-day-set reworking of the Dracula story as told in the novel, I don’t think it’s that bad. Maybe it’s a tad too cheesy (the scenes in nightclubs and whatnot do have a feel of “how do you do, fellow kids”), but it’s workable as a modern-day adaptation of the character and plot. The problem, as I say, comes from placing it as part of a whole alongside the reenvisioned-but-fundamentally-faithful adaptation we got in the first two episodes. In doing so, Moffat and Gatiss undermine the whole enterprise — it robs the first two-thirds of a fitting finale; and, by being so radically different to the style we’ve spent three hours getting used to, it doesn’t give itself a fair shake either.

And so many have judged the overall result to be a failure. Personally, I enjoyed enough of it that I was still entertained, but if they’d given us a ‘proper’ third episode to round it out then I think I may’ve loved it.

The Goes Wrong Show  Series 1 Episodes 1-2
The Goes Wrong Show - The Pilot (Not the Pilot)Oh my, what a treat! Regular readers will remember how much I loved Peter Pan Goes Wrong at Christmas 2016 (“the best thing that was on TV during the festive season”) and its 2017 followup, A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. When the gang missed Christmas 2018 I feared we wouldn’t be getting any more, possibly thanks to the negative-nelly reception in some quarters. But oh no, for 2019 they’re back with a vengeance: not a one-off hour, but a whole series of half-hour Plays Gone Wrong. Reader, I am cock-a-hoop with delight!

The first episode was another Christmas special; the second a historically-inaccurate WW2 thriller (set in 1961); the third aired on Friday but I’m currently saving it. It’s a half-hour parade of utter silliness — slapstick, wordplay, entirely predictable tomfoolery… but sometimes the total predictability of what’s about to go wrong is part of the fun (episode one begins with a blatant setup for a joke that isn’t paid off until the very end of the episode). And it’s exactly the kind of thing the whole family can watch and enjoy, whether you’re 6 or 66. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I was driven to tears of laughter. Actually, I can — it was Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Long live the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society!

Also watched…

A mix of Christmas scheduling and non-Christmas stuff we just happened to catch up on.

  • Criminal: United Kingdom Season 1 — Netflix’s high-concept cop show wasn’t quite as classy as the publicity would have you believe (it still indulged in the old staples of office politics, breaking from the tension of the interrogation to faff around with romance subplots and whatnot), but the guest stars still gave it their all — I don’t think I’ve ever seen Hayley Atwell like that before, and David Tennant was superb as always. Good enough that I’ll check out some of the international versions.
  • In Search of Dracula with Mark Gatiss — This felt like it was planned as a promo for the BBC’s new Dracula, but aired after it. Weird. Anyway, Gatiss has fronted several great documentaries on horror before, and while this wasn’t quite in their league (the others are exceptionally good) it was still a solid and interesting look at the history of the Count. And it made me want to see a load of previous Dracula films, which I always think is the mark of a good movie documentary.
  • Miranda My Such Fun Celebration — I know the sitcom Miranda wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but I loved it, as did lots of others, hence this one-off special to mark its tenth anniversary. It’s a bit of an oddity — a mix of cast reunions, sketches, clip montages, and song and dance. Yes, song and dance. It was well-meaning but, well, I found it a little strange. But for those people whose lives have been positively impacted by the series (and, genuinely, hurrah to it and them for that), I’m sure it was a delight.
  • Vienna Blood Series 1 — A new crime series from “that other guy who wrote some episodes of Sherlock”, this adaptation of a series of novels set in Vienna c.1907 did feel a bit like Sherlock Lite, with its Freud-influenced genius consulting detective and some stylish visuals. But it lacked the innovation that marked out Sherlock, especially in its early days. You can tell this has half an eye on being an easy sell to international markets, able to sit comfortably alongside all the other 90-minute crime dramas the UK TV industry churns out. So, it was a bit predictable and formulaic, but decently done and reasonably entertaining. This Guardian article echoes my feelings on it pretty well.

    Things to Catch Up On
    A Christmas CarolThis month, I have mostly been missing the BBC’s new adaptation of A Christmas Carol, written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight. I know it went down with some degree of controversy, but its revisionist, horror-tinged style looked right up my alley. Unfortunately, it was stripped over three nights, and because I knew I was going to be away for the third evening I didn’t start it. By the point I had enough time to make room for it, it was so long enough after Christmas that I wasn’t sure it was appropriate. Now, it’s January 12th and it’s definitely too late. Guess I’ll have to try to remember to watch it next year, then.

    Next month… it’s a new year, so I’m sure there must be plenty of new TV. Although I kind of hope not, because I’ve still got tonnes and tonnes from last year to catch up on.

  • 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.

    My Most-Read Posts of 2019

    2019 may’ve given us the highest grossing film of all time, amongst numerous other big events, but TV reviews once again dominate my most-viewed posts of the year — in the rankings of new posts, there’s no film until 8th (if we widen that to include older posts, it’s all TV until 14th).

    But this is still theoretically a film blog, so — as usual — I’ve compiled my five most-read TV posts (which, obviously, is the same as my outright five most-read posts) and then my five most-read film reviews.

    My Top 5 Most-Viewed New TV Posts in 2019

    5) The Past Month on TV #45
    including Game of Thrones season 8 episodes 1-2, Thronecast specials and series 8 episodes 1-2, Deadwood season 3, and The Twilight Zone ‘best of’ selection 2.

    4) The Past Month on TV #43
    including The Punisher season 2, Russian Doll season 1, Hanna episode 1, Les Misérables episodes 4-6, the 91st Academy Awards, the British Academy Film Awards 2019, Great News season 2 episodes 8-13, and Mark Kermode’s Oscar Winners: A Secrets of Cinema Special.

    3) The Past Christmas on TV 2018
    including Doctor Who: Resolution, The ABC Murders, Watership Down, Not Going Out: Ding Dong Merrily on Live, Upstart Crow Christmas special, Click & Collect, Goodness Gracious Me: 20 Years Innit!, Mock the Week, Have I Got News for You, Insert Name Here, Mrs Brown’s Boys, Simon Callow’s A Christmas Carol, The Dead Room, Mark Kermode’s Christmas Cinema Secrets, and Les Misérables episode 1.

    2) The Past Fortnight on TV #46
    This attracted almost three times as many views as the post in 3rd (that graph in the header image is accurate — the top two were out well ahead of everything else). What attracted such attention? Nothing less than the final season of the biggest TV show of the decade: Game of Thrones. This post included Game of Thrones season 8 episodes 3-4, Ghosts series 1 episodes 1-3, Columbo: Murder by the Book, The Twilight Zone ‘best of’ selection 3, Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema: Disaster Movies, and Thronecast series 8 episodes 3-4.

    1) The Past Fortnight on TV #47
    My comments about IMDb voters of the Game of Thrones finale attracted some degree of ire, which helps lead this one to first place. In fact, it’s already my 4th most-viewed post of all time. It only included Game of Thrones season 8 episodes 5-6, The Twilight Zone ‘best of’ selection 4, Eurovision 2019, and Thronecast series 8 episodes 5-7.

    My Top 5 Most-Viewed New Film Posts in 2019

    5) Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
    Jumping in here in the final days of the year, the much-anticipated conclusion of the 42-year nine-film Skywalker Saga. Shame it was such a load of rubbish.

    4) The Highwaymen
    Netflix films often do well in these rankings, especially if I review them promptly, and that applies to both this and the film in 3rd. There were also Netflix films in 6th, 8th, and 9th places, and a Sky Cinema debut in 7th.

    3) The Silence
    Mind, there are better Netflix films people could’ve chosen to read about than this.

    2) Glass
    That said, a promptly-reviewed big theatrical release can top even Netflix titles, as these next two show. Alternatively, they say something about the continued dominance of superhero movies.

    1) Avengers: Endgame
    Well, it is the biggest film of all time.

    Shaft (2019)

    2019 #98
    Tim Story | 111 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Shaft (2019)

    I wrote recently about Shaft 2000 (I’m gonna start calling it that, even if nobody else does), the turn-of-the-millennium attempt to reboot the ’70s blaxploitation classic. It didn’t really take off, for various reasons, but I think it’s a pretty solid thriller in its own right. Now, 19 years later, they’ve decided to try again, only this time they’ve thrown away the spirit of the original in favour of an intergenerational buddy comedy.

    John Shaft Jr (Jessie T. Usher) is a bookish FBI data analyst whose dad, John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson), abandoned him when he was a baby so he could go off galavanting with other women and solving crime while looking cool. Down the years he’s sent Jr presents like condoms and a box of porn mags — he’s that kind of dad. (Is that a kind of dad, or is it just a caricature of one?) Anyway, after Jr’s former-junkie best friend dies of an apparent overdose, everyone else believes it was a relapse, but Jr isn’t convinced. Struggling to investigate on his own, he turns to his estranged father for help.

    Where Jackson’s Shaft was once a cool dude kicking ass and taking names (or whatever it is cool dude PIs did in the early ’00s), here they’ve turned him into a bit of a throwback dinosaur, spouting politically incorrect opinions with every other line of dialogue. This film does acknowledge the existence of the 2000 movie (an opening montage covering the last 30 years of the Shafts’ lives includes shots from that film to show Shaft Sr quitting the police), but it doesn’t feel like the same character we saw back then — he’s much more of a caricature of an outdated sex-obsessed oldie here. At times it’s like someone adapted one of those facile “millennials are to blame for everything” articles into a movie; or at least copy-pasted it into Shaft Sr’s dialogue.

    Still a sex machine to all the chicks

    This aspect has come in for much consternation among the film’s wider critical reception, but, eh, I dunno — the crap Shaft comes out with is definitely being played for laughs, with other characters eye-rolling (and similar) at most of what he says and does. At the same time, Jr’s character arc still comes down to “manning up” in the way his father wants him to. For instance: he hates guns, but when assassins attack at a restaurant, he borrows his date’s handbag-sized pistol and takes them out with expert marksmanship, before throwing the gun down in disgust. Put another way, the film is having its cake and eating it — it knows these old-fashioned ideals are, well, old-fashioned, but it’s gonna let them play out anyway. Even the plot pretends to be kinda modern by suggesting it might all have something to do with terrorism and radicalising Muslims — though as that’s been a plot driver for nigh on 20 years now, maybe it stretches the idea of “modern”. But it doesn’t matter anyway, because really that’s a red herring to cover up a standard drug smuggling affair.

    The film’s best bit comes at the end, when Richard Roundtree’s OG Shaft gets roped into things for no particularly good reason. But it doesn’t matter, because granddad Shaft’s antics, and the banter between all three generations, is the most entertaining part of the movie. It certainly helps cover for the TV-movie-esque quality of the action scenes. It’s a shame the film waited so long to get him involved.

    Shaft cubed

    So Shaft 2019 is antiquated in myriad different ways, be it the values espoused by its co-lead or the general tone and content of its story. It didn’t need to be like that — Shaft may’ve been born in the ’70s, but I don’t think the very nature of the character requires him to still embody ’70 values. Nonetheless, if you don’t let that stuff bother you too much, the result is a moderately entertaining watch — nothing special (the other two films with the same title are both better), but a passably humorous 110 minutes.

    3 out of 5

    Shaft is available on Netflix everywhere (except the US) now.

    The Puny Monthly Review of June 2019

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


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

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

    Deadwood: The Movie
    .


    • So, I only watched 4 new feature films in June.
    • On the downside, that ends a five-year streak of watching at least 10 films every month. (A streak that lasted exactly five years, by-the-way — I forgot to mention that last month.)
    • On the bright side, it means there’s some slightly different stuff to talk about in these stats. Like, for example, that June 2019 is the lowest-totalling month since June 2013, which was six whole years ago.
    • It’s the 150th month of 100 Films, by-the-by, but also the 15th with 4 or fewer films. That means it’s in the bottom 10% of all months, which is its own kind of achievement.
    • It takes the average for June down from 10.5 to 10.0, meaning it just keeps its head above the waterline for something I’ve been working on for a while now, i.e. getting every month’s average above 10. (The only remaining outlier is July, which is on 9.9, so that’ll be fun next month…)
    • It also takes the average for 2019 so far down from 18.8 to 16.3, and the rolling average of the last 12 months down from 19.3 to 17.8.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film: true-story French comedy-drama Untouchable, aka Intouchables in its original language, aka The Intouchables in the US. It’s amusing and heartwarming, but its elevated position on lists like the IMDb Top 250 oversells it somewhat.
    • There’s no Blindspot film this month. If I hadn’t upped my goal to 12 films on both lists that’d be fine, but now I’ve got one to catch up.
    • I also watched nothing from last month’s “failures”, so I guess that makes them a double failure. Oh dear.



    The 49th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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


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

    Murder Mystery (2019)

    2019 #96
    Kyle Newacheck | 97 mins | streaming (UHD) | 2.00:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

    Murder Mystery

    Murder Mystery is a murder mystery in which there is a murder under mysterious circumstances, and it falls to vacationing NY cop Nick Spitz (Adam Sandler) and his murder-mystery-loving wife Audrey (Jennifer Aniston) to solve these mysterious murders.

    I’m no great fan of Sandler, and he’s probably the least funny person in this film, but I also didn’t find him outright objectionable. His character — an underachieving middle-aged beat cop who pretends to be a detective to his long-suffering wife — seems like the kind of guy who’d think he’s funnier than he is, so Sandler’s attempts at humour mostly come off as in-character. Put another way, it works in spite of itself. Of the two leads, Aniston is definitely the one doing the most work for the film, both in terms of actually being amusing and giving it some kind of emotional character arc.

    Detectives or suspects?

    The actual mystery plot is no great shakes — there are two glaring clues early on that give most of the game away, especially if you’re well-versed in watching murder mysteries and spotting such hints. That’s somewhat beside the point, though, because there’s enough fun to be had along the way to make up for it, and there are still some reasonable red herrings. The fact the cast is staffed by an array of experienced mostly-British thesps, many of whom have no doubt appeared in their share of ‘real’ murder mysteries — the likes of Luke Evans, Gemma Arterton, Adeel Akhtar, David Walliams, and Terence Stamp — definitely helps keep proceedings afloat.

    There are a few of action-y scenes — a shoot-out, some hijinks on a hotel ledge, a decent car chase for the finale — that keep the momentum up too. Plus it mostly looks suitably luxuriant and exotic (the odd bout of iffy green screen aside), matching its high-class backdrop and French Riviera setting. Altogether, it makes for a suitably easy-watching 90-minutes in front of Netflix.

    3 out of 5

    Murder Mystery is available on Netflix everywhere now.

    The Silence (2019)

    2019 #58
    John R. Leonetti | 90 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Germany & USA / English & American Sign Language | 15 / PG-13

    The Silence

    A 15- / PG-13-rated horror movie in which the world is under attack from creatures who hunt and kill via sound, and we follow a family who attempts to survive by hiding in a remote farmhouse, aided by the fact they’ve all learnt sign language to communicate with their deaf teenage daughter.

    If you’re thinking “wait a minute, that’s a description of A Quiet Place,” you’re right, it is. It’s also a wholly accurate summary of this new direct-to-Netflix film.* Yes, really, they are that similar. At first glance it seems utterly ludicrous that Netflix would release such a blatant rip-off, especially just one year after the previous film; but, as ever, there’s a little more to it than meets the eye: The Silence is based on a novel published in 2015, and filming began back in September 2017. It seems it got unlucky, and is now doomed to be dismissed as no more than a shameless rip-off. But while it’s not The Silence’s fault that A Quiet Place beat it to the punch, it is the film’s own fault that it’s not very good.

    The real problem here seems to be the screenplay. John R. Leonetti’s direction is fine, if unremarkable, and there are decent performances, particularly from leads Kiernan Shipka and Stanley Tucci, but they’re all saddled with a poorly rendered narrative. Early on, backstory is dumped via some random teenage-diary-level voiceover narration, making sure to shoehorn in some information that we then never actually need to know. One part of that asserts something along the lines of “everyone has a story of where they were when it happened; this is our story,” and then just minutes later we cut away to an event happening that’s completely unconnected to the main story. To make matters worse, it only does that once. It’s like they could only come up with one other idea for what might be going on during this disaster.

    Just going for a nice family walk

    The way The Silence handles its deaf character is another case in point, especially when contrasted with A Quiet Place. The latter embraced its deaf character and the family’s sign language communication (far more of the dialogue was signed than spoken), whereas The Silence sees to be doing its best to avoid or cover for that fact: she only went deaf when she was 13, so she still speaks, and she can lip-read so well people that other people don’t always bother signing to her either. There’s a bunch of little moments that undermine it as well. For example, at one point she has a video call conversation with her boyfriend, when for reasons of both situation (she’s sat in the back of the car with her family) and character (she’s deaf) it would make more sense for them to be texting. But later, the film flips all this on its head: once they full accept they need to stay as quiet as possible, they start mouthing things and signing all over the place, but the film doesn’t bother to subtitle it… although, ironically, if you turn on the hard-of-hearing subtitle track, it is subtitled. What a mess.

    Even coming in the wake of A Quiet Place, The Silence had a chance to mark itself out by telling a slightly different story: here the event is just beginning, so we’re witnessing the stuff the other film skipped over. Except A Quiet Place skipped it for good reason: we’ve seen this “the apocalypse begins” rigmarole in many films before. The Silence doesn’t have any significantly new perspectives on it. Eventually it introduces a cult of religious nutters to threaten the family, but it does so with less than half-an-hour of the film left, consequently racing through to a conclusion at breakneck speed. It’s weirdly rushed after the almost methodical hour that preceded it.

    It’s not an unmitigated disaster — there are moments that work, and Shipka and Tucci are both very watchable — but the overall concoction is poor, with shortcomings that are only emphasised by how well it was done in A Quiet Place.

    2 out of 5

    The Silence is available on Netflix now.

    * Unless you’re in Germany, where it’s instead getting a theatrical release next month. ^