The 100-Week Roundup IX

I’ve not been doing too well with reviews lately — this is my first for over a fortnight, having missed self-imposed deadlines for the likes of Knives Out (on Amazon Prime), The Peanut Butter Falcon (on Netflix), Joker (on Sky Cinema), and Spaceship Earth (on DVD & Blu-ray). I’ve also slipped on these 100-week updates — this one should really have been at the end of July, and there should’ve already been another in August, with a third due soon. Oh dear.

So, it’s catchup time, and it begins with my final reviews from August 2018

  • The Most Unknown (2018)
  • Zorro (1975)


    The Most Unknown
    (2018)

    2018 #185
    Ian Cheney | 92 mins | digital (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English

    The Most Unknown

    This film is an experiment. Nine scientists meet for the first time in a chain of encounters around the world. It begins under a mountain, and ends on a monkey island.

    In this documentary, nine scientists working on some of the hardest problems across all fields (the “most unknowns”) meet each other in a daisy chain of one-on-one interviews / lab tours. It not only touches on the basics of what the unknowns they’re investigating are, but also how they go about investigating or discovering these things — the day-to-day realities of actually “doing” Science. Alongside that, it reveals the scientific mindset; what motivates them. The nine individuals are very different people working on very different problems in very different fields, but the film draws out the similarities in their natures that drive them to explore the unknown.

    If you’re concerned it might be all a bit “inside baseball” if you’re not a science geek, don’t be. These people work in vastly different fields — to us laypeople they’re all “scientists”, but to each other their specialities make them as different from one another as we are from them. This, arguably, is an insight in itself. It feels kind of obvious — of course a physicist and a microbiologist are completely different types of scientist — but I do think we have a tendency to lump all scientists together. Think of news reports: it’s not “chemists have discovered” or “psychologists have discovered”, it’s “scientists have discovered”.

    Science, innit

    It also reminds you that scientists are humans too, via little incidental details. For example, the equipment that vibrates samples to sheer out the DNA is labelled, “My name is Bond, James Bond. I like things shaken, not stirred.” Or the woman who plays Pokémon Go on her remote research island, because the lack of visitors means you find really good Pokémon there.

    You might also learn something about movies. The last scientist, a cognitive psychologist, talks about how people assess the quality of movies. Turns out, rather than considering their overall experience, they tend to focus on two points: the peak of how good it was, and how it ended. Pleasantly, this kinda confirms my long-held theory that an awful lot of movies are judged primarily on the quality of their third act. (My exception to this “rule” has always been films that lose you early on and put themselves on a hiding to nothing. Well, science can’t explain everything, I guess.)

    Plus, as a film, it’s beautifully shot. A lot of this science is taking place in extreme locations, which bring with them a beauty and wonder of their own.

    4 out of 5

    The Most Unknown is currently available on YouTube from its production company, split into nine instalments. (It used to be on Netflix, but was removed just the other day. If I’d published this review on time…)

    Zorro
    (1975)

    2018 #186
    Duccio Tessari | 118 mins | digital (HD) | 1.85:1 | Italy & France / English | PG / G

    Zorro

    This Italian-French version of the adventures of the famous masked vigilante (played by the great Alain Delon) is tonally similar to Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers: genuine swashbuckling (including some elaborate stunt-filled sequences) mixed with plenty of humour and daftness. Plus, being set in 19th century California but filmed in Spain, it also has more than a dash of the Spaghetti Western in its DNA. The whole mix makes it a lot of fun.

    Of particular note is the final sword fight, an epic duel for the ages. It sees Zorro and chief villain Colonel Huerta pursue each other around the castle, clashing blades at every turn, at first accompanied by a crowd of spectators but, as their fight moves higher and higher, ending atop the bell tower, each with a rapier in one hand and a flaming torch in the other, thrashing their weapons at each other with all the vigour and vitriol of men who really, really want to kill each other.

    Another highlight is, arguably, the cheesy main theme. On the one hand it’s slathered all over the film inappropriately; on the other, it underlines the light, silly, comic tone. Plus it’s sung by someone called Oliver Onions. Can’t beat that.

    4 out of 5

  • The 100th Monthly Update for August 2018

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

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

    So, on to this month’s viewing!


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

    Zorro

    .


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



    The 39th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    The Mask of Zorro (1998)

    100 Films’ 100 Favourites #59

    Justice leaves its mark.

    Country: USA & Germany
    Language: English
    Runtime: 138 minutes
    BBFC: PG
    MPAA: PG-13

    Original Release: 17th July 1998 (USA)
    UK Release: 11th December 1998
    First Seen: TV, 31st August 2002 (probably)

    Stars
    Antonio Banderas (Desperado, Puss in Boots)
    Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs, The Remains of the Day)
    Catherine Zeta-Jones (Entrapment, Chicago)

    Director
    Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, The Legend of Zorro)

    Screenwriters
    John Eskow (Pink Cadillac, Air America)
    Ted Elliott (Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest)
    Terry Rossio (Aladdin, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)

    Story by
    Ted Elliott (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, The Lone Ranger)
    Terry Rossio (The Legend of Zorro, National Treasure: Book of Secrets)
    Randall Jahnson (The Doors, Sunset Strip)

    Based on
    The character of Zorro, created by Johnston McCulley.

    The Story
    After his brother is murdered, Alejandro Murrieta seeks revenge by becoming the protégé of Don Diego de la Vega — the man who used to be Zorro. Alejandro’s nemesis is Captain Love, righthand man to Don Rafael Montero, who 20 years ago killed de la Vega’s wife and stole his daughter — so de la Vega wants some revenge of his own.

    Our Hero
    A headstrong street thief, Alejandro Murrieta would surely get himself killed were it not for the intervention of Don Diego de la Vega and the training he provides — and his own charm, of course.

    Our Villain
    Don Rafael Montero plans to purchase California from General Santa Anna using gold secretly mined from the General’s own land. When Zorro’s actions threaten to expose the plan, he decides to destroy the mine and kill its slave workers. As if murdering de la Vega’s wife and stealing his child didn’t make him evil enough.

    Best Supporting Character
    Anthony Hopkins still seems an unlikely choice for the ageing former Zorro, Don Diego de la Vega, but his performance is perfectly calibrated nonetheless: wise and teasing of his young charge in equal measure. Hopkins also has the remarkable ability to absolutely own every line — reading the quotes page on IMDb, it’s impossible not to hear his voice.

    Memorable Quote
    “There is a saying, a very old saying: when the pupil is ready the master will appear.” — Don Diego de la Vega

    Memorable Scene
    Escaping from the villains, Zorro finds refuge in a nearby church, where he hides in the confessional. In comes Elena, wanting to confess her infatuation with the masked bandit. Hilarity ensues.

    Technical Wizardry
    The key to most good swashbucklers is the sword-fighting, and The Mask of Zorro is up to scratch. Banderas was trained by Bob Anderson, a legendary sword master — he also worked on Highlander, The Princess Bride, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and many more. Not least, he coached Errol Flynn of all people — and Anderson reckoned Banderas was the best swordsman he’d worked with since Flynn.

    Making of
    Producer Steven Spielberg originally considered directing, but was eventually busy with Saving Private Ryan. Apparently Tom Cruise would’ve been his Zorro. Spielberg’s contributions included putting Catherine Zeta-Jones forward to be cast, and suggesting the epilogue scene (with Alejandro and Elena’s baby) because the original stopping point (Old Zorro dying in his daughter’s arms) was too depressing. At one time Robert Rodriguez was also set to direct — he cast Banderas, and wanted Salma Hayek in the Zeta-Jones role — but he clashed with the studio over budget and, apparently, his concept of the film as violent and R-rated.

    Previously on…
    The Mask of Zorro was a new, standalone Zorro adventure, but the character has a long screen history — over 40 film appearances, according to Wikipedia, including five serials, plus a dozen TV series and multiple radio dramas. The first was 1920’s The Mark of Zorro, starring the original swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks. Better known nowadays is the 1940 remake starring Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone (which nearly made it on to this list).

    Next time…
    Seven years later, sequel The Legend of Zorro sees Zorro attempt to thwart a threat to California’s pending statehood, this time with his kid in tow. It wasn’t that good. Naturally, there’s talk of a reboot.

    Awards
    2 Oscar nominations (Sound, Sound Effects Editing)
    1 BAFTA nomination (Costume Design)
    3 Saturn nominations (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film, Actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Costumes)

    What the Critics Said
    “a pointed riposte to those who say they don’t make ’em like that anymore. The return of the legendary swordsman is well served by a grandly mounted production in the classical style [which] favors dashing adventure, dramatic and political intrigue, well-motivated characters and romance between mightily attractive leads over fashionable cynicism, cheap gags, over-stressed contemporary relevance and sensation for sensation’s sake. […] Achieving the right tone for the picture was crucial, as it easily could have tilted either in the direction of old-fashioned stodginess or, more likely in this day and age, of inappropriately high-tech thrills and gratuitous violence. Clearly, everyone concerned, beginning with scripters John Eskow, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and GoldenEye director Martin Campbell, was at pains to endow the story with sufficient dramatic and emotional credibility, and to go beyond glibness in its humor.” — Todd McCarthy, Variety

    Score: 83%

    What the Public Say
    “as this is a Steven Spielberg production, what The Mask of Zorro is really about is the art of filmmaking, and it shows what some imaginative people (director Martin Campbell among them) can do with a movie camera. There are some old-fashioned stunts and physical comedy that are carried off just about perfectly here. And usually, these shoot-the-works movies peter out just before the end credits, but this one has the most satisfying adventure-movie wrap-up I’ve seen in a long time.” — Movie Movie Blog Blog

    Verdict

    A couple of years after he revitalised the Bond franchise with GoldenEye, director Martin Campbell does the same for a whole subgenre — the swashbuckler — in this fun revival of the masked Californian vigilante. Mixing slickly choreographed action with doses of humour, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously but doesn’t tip over into farce either (traits definitely shared with the aforementioned Bond revival). The result is thoroughly entertaining, and an example of ’90s blockbuster filmmaking at its finest.

    #60 will… take the red pill.