A daily newsletter guide to what is happening on your screens - TV, streaming, movies, games, VR, AR
Dan Barrett is an industry commentator & TV critic. He does radio - 4BC & ABC GC and co-hosts the Screen Watching podcast. He's a former Mediaweek deputy editor and content creator for SBS.
Bandersnatch trailer! New Poirot! And the best films of 2018.
ABW is by Dan Barrett who is getting more cantankerous with every passing day.
On 31 December, I will be publishing my best-of 2018 TV list. There is so much being dropped on streaming services in this final week that I want to make sure I see things like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch before I lock in my list.
I have, however, seen almost all of the movies I am likely to see before the year is out. So, should anyone be particularly interested, I have listed my top 10 movies for 2018 at the end of today’s newsletter.
The aforementioned Bandersnatch will drop on Netflix within hours. Here’s the just-released trailer:
High on my list of things I want to get around to watching before 2018 is out is the BBC One drama The ABC Murders, featuring John Malkovich as Agatha Christie’s Poirot. The drama debuted this week in the UK, landing in the US in February on Amazon.
He is quite magnificent as a suffering Hercule, beset by flashbacks to what seems to be his younger self during the invasion of Belgium and letters from someone signing himself “ABC” and promising mayhem. He is not prim but careful, watchful – of others and perhaps even himself, as although Poirot’s glory days have passed (he even dyes his facial hair), the latent violence in this Malkovich performance is as potent as ever.
Media analyst Alan Wolk, who apparently watches very little television, is adamant that new short-form streaming service Quibi (the brand name represents ‘quick bites’), will be successful because of all the people watching via connected TV devices. His reasoning is that people like watching TV on a TV set and cites a stat that 80% of Hulu viewers watch TV via a device connected to the TV.
But, he’s off the mark on this one. Watching short form TV is a terrible experience on a lounge-room big screen TV. If you’ve ever tried watching multiple installments of web series, you’d know what a fractured, unpleasant experience it is. First of all, watching a narrative jerk around every ten minutes as it needs to accommodate entry and exit points to the story for each chapter provides terrible flow. But secondly, it’s just not easy to build sufficient emotional stakes in a short form drama/comedy narrative.
I’ll be curious to see what Quibi does in terms of scripted narratives, but I do think they’re going to have some interesting content with its light entertainment factual/variety content - the interesting thing to watch here is how much this disrupts younger demos engagement with late night TV shows. Quibi could cause a major dent in the desired audience for Jimmy Fallon, for example.
Quibi is being designed as a mobile first experience, which is what makes sense for short-form content. Sure, some of it will be watched via connected devices, but I’d be very surprised if it accounts for anywhere near 80% of viewership.
This list is based on new movies that were released in 2018 in Australia. I haven’t listed these in order. They’re all films that I loved and have been thinking a lot about in the time since I have seen them. And, being completely honest, not many films really warrant that anymore.
2018 has, broadly, been a year in which I have fallen out of love with the cinema. The experience of actually going to the movies continues to feel less vital to me with every passing year. My movie-going year began with the disappointment of seeing The Phantom Thread in an art-house theater with multiple people on their phones through the whole movie. And it ended with Aquaman.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
This continues to be mainstream Hollywood’s most audacious and captivating franchise.
That sequence on the motorbike in Paris thrills me just thinking about it.
The fight scene in the bathroom was just incredible.
They used to make comedy films like this and release them into cinemas all the time. In part, this was added to my list for nostalgia for what cinema used to be.
But also, it was really f**king funny and charming.
Isle of Dogs
I’m pretty mad for Wes Anderson films, so consider that bias with this one.
I also love dogs.
The film got caught up in a lot of racial political conversation this year, which heightened my focus on the film - both deconstructing the film itself and its messaging, while also interrogating my own attitudes as a viewer. Good art can do that.
I’m far from a religious man, but I do find stories about a crisis of faith interesting - especially this one which layers in a very interesting 2018 approach to the idea: What if a priest has a crisis of faith when his eyes are opened to the idea of God’s complicity in an ever-failing environment across the world.
Ethan Hawke continues to be amazing.
Sorry To Bother You
All I knew about the film going into it was that it played around with issues of race within the framework of a call centre. What I didn’t expect was that the film would be so batsh*t crazy and take the viewer into some high concept, yet savage satire.
This is an easy film to dismiss and not press play on. Take the effort to see this one - you may not like it, but you won’t stop thinking about it.
This didn’t get a proper cinema release here in Australia. But, I did find it buried in a genre film festival in a cinema with maybe 5 other people watching it.
Savagely funny film that not only considers attitudes to race and the broader culture, but also in the way that these issues are explored through mainstream film and television. The execution of much of it deliberately invokes our familiarity with the archetypes we see in buddy-cop movies, Blackspolitation films, and simplistic 70s/80s TV cop narratives.
The Phantom Thread
In the same way that I am a sucker for Wes Anderson’s aesthetic, I am similarly putty in the hands of Paul Thomas Anderson. It is the rare film that he’s made that I haven’t loved (*cough* Inherent Vice *cough*).
Daniel Day Lewis and Vicky Krieps were magic on screen together. Everything about this was so exact and beautiful.
The film by Johann Lurf is a compilation of nothing but scenes from movies showing space and the stars. No text, actors, spaceships, or aliens are seen on screen. Just the vastness of space and the stars.
I expected it to be incredibly dull to watch - a chore, even. But it was captivating, forcing me to view the beauty of what was on screen, while also reflecting back on my own memories of film, trying to recall what movie I was watching a clip from before being flung into the next clip.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The trailer for the film was stunning and I expected to have a fun time at the cinema watching it. But at no point did I realise what a stunning movie this would be. It was visually inventive, with great character work, and wildly funny.
So many films on my list this year slyly explored the audiences relationship with cinema and this was possibly the most overt with multiple takes on who Spider-Man is and what the character can be once an audience is willing to give themselves open to new ideas and interpretations.
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