The Past Month on TV #10

If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who ya gonna call? Three middle-schoolers on their bicycles, apparently…

Stranger Things (Season 1)
Stranger ThingsHype — it’s a funny old business. It’s hard to have avoided hearing something about Stranger Things, Netflix’s summer hit that went down like gangbusters, its ’80s nostalgia perfectly calibrated to target the kind of people who run entertainment news websites these days — just to be cynical about it. Or truthful. Then there came the backlash, which attested there was nothing more to the show than those callbacks and tributes; a hollow experience of copying and “hey, remember this? That was good, wasn’t it?”

So, I confess, I approached the first chapter with the thought in mind that I might be about to watch the most overrated thing since sliced bread. The opening instalment did little to sway me either way — as with many a ‘pilot’ episode (it’s not a pilot if it goes straight to series, but anyway), it’s got a lot of establishing to do: teaching us the normality of this world, introducing us to the players, setting up a mystery, teasing where that might be going… Stranger Things does all this well, but not exceptionally. It’s good, it makes you want to stick with it, it has promise, but it’s not one of those first episodes where you come away thinking, “Holy moly, this is gonna be great!” (First example of that that comes to mind: Game of Thrones. Another: Firefly. I’m sure you have your own.)

Like so many streaming series, produced with an awareness that they’ll be released all at once like a really long movie, it’s a little slow-going at times, but it’s kept ticking over with some exceptional elements. Yes, it’s bedded in the style and tone of many beloved ’80s genre classics — primarily Stephen King tales and films produced (not just directed) by Steven Spielberg — but that’s just the execution. In storytelling terms, it has its own mythology, and it feels like there’s a rich vein of originality there. Or possibly it’s just references and riffs I’m not familiar with, who knows. Even better than that are the performances. Winona Ryder is incredible as the mother of a missing boy, her raw feelings and frantic actions forming a core of plausible emotional reaction in the centre of fantastic events. Millie Bobby Brown is also excellent as the mysterious Eleven, conveying so much personality and internal conflict with very little dialogue.

Stranger haircutsWithout wanting to get into spoiler territory (despite what the media would have you believe, not everyone has Netflix all the time and not everyone watches every new zeitgeisty series immediately. Apologies if you write for an entertainment site and I’ve just given you palpitations), everything comes together nicely for a barnstorming pair of climactic episodes. For my money, the penultimate chapter is the best one: with a bunch of revelations out of the way (some of them easily guessed but finally confirmed), the series kicks off a run of long-awaited fan-pleasing events (as in many a drama, it takes this long for everyone to finally start talking to each other; also, the bit with the van!) The finale is less accomplished, with some characters wandering around for a bit in a way that feels designed to pad the running time. Still, it’s a satisfying conclusion… to season one, anyway.

As an outsider for most of the summer, the endless and ever-increasing handwringing over whether there would be a second season was actually kind of amusing — and the punchline came when it was revealed Netflix had actually commissioned season two before season one was even released, they’d just decided to keep it secret for a bit. Here’s the thing: Netflix has never not recommissioned one of its original series. Even Marco Polo, which apparently no one watched or talked about, got at least a second run. And here you have a show which everyone’s talking about, and presumably most of them are actually watching too, and you think Netflix aren’t going to bring it back? I mean, it wraps itself up quite well, but there’s a whole pile of blatant teases for future storylines. C’mon, people!

Anyway, I’m happy to report that Stranger Things by and large lives up to the hype, especially by the time it reaches its climax. Bring on season two! Between that and all the Marvel series, maybe I’m going to end up with a year-round Netflix sub after all… You win, Netflix. You win.

Class (Series 1 Episodes 1-5)
ClassTen years to the very day since the launch of the original dark, sexy BBC Three Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood, we got this dark, sexy BBC Three Doctor Who spin-off. Playing as much like the other 21st century Who spin-off, CBBC’s The Sarah Jane Adventures, it concerns a bunch of Sixth Formers battling alien threats coming through cracks in time and space that occur around their school. And also having sex with each other at the drop of a hat, because that’s totally what life is like for all teenagers. So yes, Torchwood + Sarah Jane x Skins = Buffy, pretty much. I really liked the first episode (as pilot-type episodes go, it’s a strong’un), and the third, Nightvisiting, was also a great concept well executed; but the other three instalments were run-of-the-mill and/or awash with niggles. Plus the two-parter in episodes four and five suffered from having too little story to fill two whole episodes. So it’s a mixed bag, but Torchwood was the same at the start and eventually produced one of the best miniseries ever made (Children of Earth), so you never know.

The Flash (Season 3 Episodes 1-2)
Arrow (Season 5 Episodes 1-2)
The Flash season 3The CW’s raft of superhero shows restarted on UK TV this month. I’ve given up on Legends of Tomorrow and am still not joining Supergirl (though I got hold of the opening episodes, co-starring Superman, to maybe make time for at some point); but, five seasons in, Arrow has me suckered for the long-haul, and The Flash tempted me back with the intrigue of adapting Flashpoint. I’ve never got on the bandwagon with Flash, which attracted a lot of praise during its first season that I simply didn’t agree with, leading it to outshine Arrow in ratings and people’s affections. Arrow has long been off the boil, and season five certainly hasn’t got it back up to temperature so far, but The Flash had plenty of issues of its own. It’s not problem free now, but I actually really liked the first couple of episodes of the new season. It’s still a long way from the top tier of TV superheroes (Netflix have that sewn up), but it’s likeable.

Also watched…
  • Castle Season 7 Episodes 2-15 — it feels like the quality takes a nosedive with this season, and, sure enough, as I suspected, it turns out this is when they changed showrunner. Halfway through it’s beginning to pick back up a bit, at least.
  • The Crystal Maze Stand Up To Cancer Celebrity Special — I used to love this as a kid. As an adult… eh. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun to actually do, though.
  • The Great British Bake Off Series 7 Final — bye bye, Proper Bake Off. Whatever Channel 4 do in 2018, it won’t be the same.
  • The Musketeers Series 2 Episodes 8-10 — in which everything is wrapped up… and then left open-ended. Good thing there’s a third series.
  • The National Lottery: Who Dares Wins Series 9 Episodes 1-4 — I don’t waste much time on gameshows, but naming as many things as you can think of from semi-obscure lists? Right up my street. An impossible show to watch live, though — you need to fastforward the filler and pause the answers.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again — full review here.

    Things to Catch Up On
    The CrownThis month, I have mostly been missing the most expensive TV show ever made*, Netflix’s much-discussed The Crown. I don’t know if they’ve been pushing it as much in the rest of the world as they did in the UK, but it certainly felt like it was everywhere… for about a week, as is usually the way with Netflix series. Also missed: the equally-discussed Netflix-exclusive new run of Black Mirror. Both of these are because I don’t keep up a permanent Netflix subscription, but between them, the forthcoming Gilmore Girls revival, and the Series of Unfortunate Events remake in January, I will be signing up again late in December (using the free month voucher they had in the Radio Times, hurrah!)

    * Apparently it isn’t, actually.

    Next month… I’ll be out of the country when the next update is due, so it may be a little later than normal — perhaps a ‘Christmas special’.

  • Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

    2016 #28
    Mark Hartley | 102 mins | TV (HD) | 16:9 | Australia, USA, Israel & UK / English | 18 / R

    The director of Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary on Ozploitation movies that I bought on DVD at some point and haven’t got round to watching (and which shares a “The Wild, Untold Story of __” subtitle), turns his attention to a similar kind of thing from a different continent: the output of Cannon Films, the studio renowned for producing a slew of cheap but surprisingly successful B-level genre movies throughout the ’80s.

    My main takeaway from the film was a massive list of films I now want to see: Inga, Joe, The Apple, House of the Long Shadows (a PG horror movie!), The Last American Virgin, The Wicked Lady, Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, Sahara, Breakin’, Breakin’ 2, Bolero, Invasion U.S.A., Lifeforce… Even though the talking heads in the documentary keep saying how awful all of these movies are, the film makes them look awesome. I mean, not “award-winning” awesome, or even “genre classic” awesome, but like magnificently trashy fun.

    As a film, Electric Boogaloo is relentlessly, insanely fast-paced to begin with, and though it does settle a smidge, it still rockets along, which keeps things engrossing and very watchable. There’s an excellent array of talking heads — not many you’ll’ve heard of (unless you’re a Cannon aficionado, perhaps), but they were there, they lived it, and they have first-rate insights into the craziness. Craziness like the story of the competing Lambada movies, which ended up being released on the exact same day. I mean, you’d think one Lambada movie would be more than enough, but two, competing… If you wrote it in a fiction, the audience would laugh at the ridiculous contrivance of it, but it happened. Elsewhere, there’s a chunk where they just slag off Michael Winner for a bit (awesome), and director Franco Zeffirelli describes them as the best producers he ever worked with and the only ones he ever liked. Like I say, you couldn’t make it up.

    Documentaries can be hard films to assess from a “film criticism” perspective — you can get lost down lots of blind alleys about the merits of archive footage or talking heads or reconstructions or structure or whatever other variables there are. Some reviews of this film have done that, which I find a little inexplicable because I thought it was very well put together. Plus, generally speaking, if you’ve got a good story and you’ve told it well, I’m satisfied, and I think most viewers are too. This viewpoint means assessing the quality of a documentary becomes more concerned with the subject matter than the documentarian’s skill as a filmmaker, but unless you’re a student of the documentary as a genre, that story (and if it’s told effectively, rather than the issue of if its telling is effective) is all that really matters.

    Which is a really roundabout, film-theory-ish way of saying that Electric Boogaloo has a bizarrely fascinating story to tell, and does so in an immensely entertaining manner. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually a lot better than the films it’s about.

    4 out of 5

    The New-Look Monthly Update for June 2015

    Say hello to the new-look, bigger-than-ever 100 Films monthly update! Well, partially new look — much is the same, but there are some exciting new regular categories, and image-header-things. I had some ideas; I’ve introduced them all at once. (They excited me, anyway.)

    First new regular: a contents list!


    What Do You Mean You Haven't Seen…?

    Just one WDYMYHS film watched this month (so I’m still two behind) — it’s Martin Scorsese’s beloved boxing biopic (that I should’ve watched in 2013 but failed to), Raging Bull. I would make a brief comment on what I thought of it, but we’ll come to that in the Arbies…


    June's viewing

    Kingsman#75 Changing Lanes (2002)
    #76 Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
    #77 The Expendables 3 (Extended Version) (2014)
    #78 Ladyhawke (1985)
    #79 Now You See Me (2013)
    #80 The Interview (2014)
    #81 Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
    #82 Superman vs. The Elite (2012)
    John Wick#83 Rush (2013)
    #84 Whiplash (2014)
    #85 Meet the Robinsons (2007)
    #86 Before Dawn (2012)
    #87 The Guest (2014)
    #88 Raging Bull (1980)
    #89 John Wick (2014)
    #90 Fury (2014)


    Viewing Notes

    • Meet the Robinsons is the 47th official Walt Disney Animated Classic, and the 39th I’ve seen. 15 to go…
    • I have a whole new format and I make this entire section look pointless with one “oh, by the way” bit of trivia, which is less than I normally have to say here, I feel. Ah well, what can you do?


    Analysis

    2015 continues apace with 16 new films watched this month. That smashes the June average of 7.14 — indeed, reaching #90 singlehandedly drags it up over a whole film, to 8.25. It’s the highest June ever, which also means it’s the 8th month in a row to beat last year’s equivalent (June 2014 had 11). It’s the 13th month in a row in which I watched more than 10 new films, and is tied with January as both the highest month of 2015 and the third-highest month ever (also tied with May & August 2010). That means that, at 2015’s halfway point, its monthly average is exactly 15.

    Most excitingly of all, however, is that I’m now all but guaranteed to reach #100 in July. I’d have to fail my ten-films-per-month goal not to, and I’ve been doing really well with that so have plenty of incentive not to let it slip. More on what reaching #100 in July ‘means’ next month (hopefully!)

    Over in Prediction Corner: assuming I uphold my ten-per-month minimum, this year will reach at least #150, which would be my best year by some 14 films. In other words, we should know if 2015 is a new Best Year Ever by November at the latest. (Unless I mess up ten-per-month but then still pass 136 in December, of course.) Meanwhile, in the world of averages… well, we’re halfway through the year, so such a prediction would see my tally exactly double, clocking in at a quite extraordinary 180. (Extraordinary for me, anyhow — stow it, you “365 films in a year” people!)

    I’ve been posting these regular monthly updates for over five years now, and in all that time they’ve been very much focused on numbers and stats — how many films have I watched, how does that compare to the past, what does it suggest for the future, etc. And that’s fair enough — as progress reports, it’s kinda their point to report my progress. But I’ve decided it’s about time to introduce some opinion into the mix, to liven things up a bit. So I proudly present…


    The Arbies
    The 1st Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    So named because what I watch in any given month is pretty arbitrary, so the pool of contenders is a total whim rather than a genuine competition. Plus, each month two of the five categories are going to be arbitrarily chosen, just to compound the point. You’ll get the idea as we go along.

    That’s Arbie on the right, by-the-way. In case that wasn’t obvious. (Turns out Arbie is also the name of the mascot of the Royal Bank of Canada. I don’t think anyone’s going to get us confused though, so on I go.)

    For June 2015, the awards go to…

    Favourite Film of the Month
    I watched a number of very good films this month, several of them strong contenders for my year-end top ten, but when it came to the crunch there was a clear winner here: as anyone who read my review yesterday likely suspects, it’s The Guest.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    Although there were a couple of weak and/or disappointing movies amongst my viewing this month, and some I certainly liked less than this winner (or, rather, loser), for the greatest discrepancy between “expectation” and “what I actually thought of it”, this goes to Raging Bull.

    The Most ’80s Soundtrack You’ve Ever Heard
    Most months The Guest would have this sewn up, but oh no, not when Ladyhawke’s around. Can you imagine anyone doing a fantasy movie without a Howard Shore-esque orchestral epic soundtrack nowadays? Me either. In the ’80s, on the other hand… well, they sure did love their synthesisers.

    Most “Oh, I Didn’t Know They Were In It” Cameo Appearance
    If all you’ve seen of John Wick is the Keanu Reeves-centric posters, it’s probably riddled with moments such as these. Me, I somehow knew most of them, so this award goes to Jason “should’ve played James Bond at some point” Isaacs popping up in Fury as some kind of commander for a little bit. The Blu-ray has nearly an hour of deleted scenes; to my surprise, “the rest of Jason Isaacs’ role” doesn’t seem to be among them.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    Because if I didn’t limit it to new posts, this would be Harry Potter every month (across 2014 and 2013 (the year they were first published), my reviews of Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets accounted for 33.5% of all my page views).
    This month: thanks primarily to being retweeted by a Keanu Reeves fan twitter, the victor is Man of Tai Chi.


    from around the blogosphere…

    I am shockingly bad at getting round to reading other people’s blogs, and when I do it’s often in fits and starts (as anyone who’s ever received half-a-dozen ‘likes’ from me on things they posted a month ago can attest). In the interest of being a better human being, then, I thought I’d start collating particularly interesting pieces from elsewhere and share them here, for whatever that’s worth.

    There’s no particular rhyme or reason to my choices, just a handful of pieces that struck a particular chord for me this month. For one thing, there’s a pair of coincidently-thematically-similar pairings from the same two blogs. One of those is up first:

    1976, the year it all started… @ the ghost of 82
    ghostof82 tackles the emotions of what makes us love movies in the first place, through his own experience with Jaws in ’76.

    Jurassic Park (1993) @ Films on the Box
    Mike touches on a similar topic from a different angle: how films that are cinema-defining for a generation can appear to those outside said generation.

    Evangelion June 22, 2015 @ Heather Anne Campbell
    Monday 22nd June 2015 was “Evangelion Day”, the day on which the first episode of anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion takes place. In this write-up, Heather Anne Campbell explains what the series means to her and, in the process, outlines some of the reasons it’s so good and has endured for so long.

    Ten of the Best – Noir Directors @ Ride the High Country
    Whenever I read Colin’s blog I come away with a raft of new films I want to see. You can only imagine how many got added to my list after this well-considered overview.

    Miracle Mile (1988) Review @ Cinema Parrot Disco
    Who doesn’t love stumbling across something they’ve never heard of that turns out to be right up their street? No idea if I’d like Miracle Mile, or even if/when I’ll have a chance to see it, but table9mutant’s review has me suitably intrigued. And is it just me or are the ’80s everywhere at the minute?

    Movies Silently’s Top Ten Talkies @ Movies Silently
    Talking of, a) recommendations, and b) the ’80s, silent cinema doyenne Fritzi took a detour from her regular stomping ground with this list (technically from last month, but rules were made to be bent). Any list of favourites that includes Mystery Men is a good’un in my book, but the aforementioned ’80s recommendation is her #2 choice, medieval fantasy Ladyhawke. As you may’ve noticed above, it even managed to find its way to the top of my “must watch” pile (a rare feat). Full review in due course, but for now suffice to say I very much enjoyed it. I even thought the score had its moments.

    RIP Christopher Lee @ Films on the Box
    Finally, the second pairing I mentioned, on a sadder note. First, Mike pays fitting tribute to one of the great screen icons.

    Remembering the Music of James Horner @ the ghost of 82
    Last but not least, a personal tribute to composer James Horner.


    Reviews


    Archive Reviews


    5 Iconic Music Themes

    Film music has changed a lot down the years, but it’s been a pretty constant important element. Plenty of it is forgettable background noise, but some stands out so much it becomes famed in its own right. I recently re-watched the original Star Wars trilogy, inspiring this month’s top five: three film themes — plus two from other mediums — that, to me, are some of the most iconic of all.

    1. Doctor Who by Ron Grainer
      Doctor WhoDiddly-dum diddly-dum diddly-dum ooo-weee-ooo… For generations of British children, that’s the sound of Saturday night adventure. I guess to some people it’s just a children’s TV theme, but they’re wrong: it was a genuinely pioneering, important example of burgeoning electronic music (honestly). As a composition it’s surprisingly versatile: Delia Derbyshire’s original arrangement is still chillingly unsettling 52 years on; Murray Gold’s 2005 version (arguably perfected in the Series Four version) is an equally-perfect orchestral blockbuster.
    2. Star Wars (Main Theme) by John Williams
      Star WarsDooo-dooo dododo-dooodo dododo-dooodo dododo-doo… You could probably fill this list twice over with John Williams compositions — Indiana Jones, Jaws, Superman, Jurassic Park, more recently Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter, and so on — but undoubtedly the most iconic of them all is his main theme to George Lucas’ space-fantasy saga. Running it a close second is the same series’ Imperial March, perhaps the greatest villain’s theme ever. All together now: dum dum dum dum-dudum dum-dudum…
    3. James Bond Theme by Monty Norman
      Casino Royale teaserDang da-dang-dang da-da-da dang da-dangdang da-da-da daa-daa da-da-daa… A 53-year-old surf rock tune should by all rights be horribly dated, but I guess true cool endures. While the version used in the films has barely changed, there are an abundance of variations for trailers, etc. My personal favourite is the one created by Pfeifer Broz. Music for the Casino Royale trailer in 2006. The climactic use of a choir is one of those “how did it take someone 43 years to think of this?!” moments.
    4. The Fellowship Theme by Howard Shore
      FellowshipDooo-dooo dododooo, do-do-doo do-do-doo do-do-doo do do doo… The only one here that isn’t a title theme, but it’s indelibly part of the Lord of the Rings franchise — it has no reason to appear in The Hobbit trilogy, but I spent most of those eight hours missing it. It reoccurs throughout the trilogy (of course it does), but perhaps the purest version can be found in The Ring Goes South from the Fellowship soundtrack. “Only Peter Jackson and Howard Shore can make 9 people walking past a rock look epic.”
    5. The Secret of Monkey Island by Michael Land
      The Secret of Monkey IslandDoo-doo dodododo-doo do-do-do-doo… I’m certain this will be less familiar than any of the above to most people but, honestly, to me (and, I think, many other people who played the LucasArts games) it’s as iconic as anything else I’ve mentioned, including all of those other John Williams ones. The original was rendered in the style of its era — a digital MIDI thing — but it endured throughout the series and was transformed into some lusher orchestral versions. Try the version from the 2009 special edition, for instance.

    I’m already full of incredulousness at myself for leaving out Indiana Jones. Or Back to the Future. Or Mission: Impossible. And it may’ve been composed by committee, but I love the main theme from Pirates of the Caribbean (find it cleanly in the first film’s He’s a Pirate). And if we’re allowing TV themes, what about Games of Thrones? I mean, this is pretty much what I hear every time I watch the show. And also… oh, we’ll be here forever. What are you favourites?


    Next month…

    #100! Probably. Hopefully.