It's the end of an era. Literally. At the age of 85, Japanese emperor Akihito has made the unusual decision to retire and have some fun during the last years of his life, rather than work himself into a not-so-early grave. The Japanese measure their calendar by imperial reigns, so we know in advance that Akihito's era, known as Heisei, will come to an end on April 30th. As seasoned Japanophiles, you'd imagine The Belated Birthday Girl and I would want to be there for the changeover.
Unfortunately, planes and hotel prices for that week have inevitably skyrocketed, so we're going the week before instead. Sorry about that. We have other plans for the changeover week, though, and you'll get to hear about those. Eventually.
Now, you see, at the start of this year it didn't seem like such a big deal. "Fancy working for a week in Moscow?" they asked me in January. "It won't be for a couple of months yet, we'll need to sort out visas and everything." It'd be my first time visiting Russia, so how could I possibly turn down that opportunity?
It took nearly three months to complete all the paperwork, by which time we'd had that whole awkward business where the Russians allegedly tried to whack a couple of their own people in the Salisbury branch of Zizzi. Diplomatic relations between Britain and Russia were at a post-Cold War low. Arsenal had just beaten CSKA Moscow 4-1 in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-final. And I was going to be in Moscow the same week that the city was hosting the second leg.
Spoiler alert: I got out alive. Arsenal, meanwhile, won 6-3 on aggregate, only to bottle it in the semis.
So, while we're on the subject of football... If any of you are going to be in Russia for the World Cup over the next month - hey, look, an actual excuse for publishing this two months after the fact - here are some travel tips for you, along with two of my inevitable reviews of unsubtitled local films I didn't have a hope in hell of understanding.
Renault: And what in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca? Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters. Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert. Rick: I was misinformed.
There's a certain inevitability to this. Last month, you'll remember, I editorially steered the good ship MostlyFilm into its final port of call. As part of its climactic week-and-a-bit of wonders, I contributed the last episode in the long-running feature Monoglot Movie Club, while suggesting that it could possibly return in some form or other on this site.
In the six weeks that followed the publication of that article, I would end up visiting seven different countries (okay, one of them was Scotland, but still). Three of them would be countries I'd never been to before, and I would see a film at the cinema in all three. So, yeah, Monoglot Movie Club is definitely returning here, to the extent that it's now got its own category in the right-hand sidebar. (The category includes earlier travel posts that contain movie reviews, as well as the Red Button Bonus Material pieces for the MostlyFilm series.)
Well, that's that. As MostlyFilm continues to rideslowlyintothesunset, we've just published what will be my final solo contribution to the site (though I'll pop up in two more collaborative pieces before the week's out). Monoglot Movie Club: Epitaph 1, contrary to what you may have read at the start of my Polish Netflix article, is a real finale to seven years of the feature. It's my one and only chance to run with an idea that I've been toying with since 2013 or thereabouts: take a few films that I've reviewed without subtitles for MMC, watch them again with subtitles, and see if it changes my opinion of them. I've picked seven films from more or less the entire run of the feature - for four of them I've been able to draw on second reviews written for these pages, while the other three have been rewatched specially for this piece. You'll have to read Epitaph 1 to see how all that turned out.
The final episode of MMC is, as ever, accompanied by Red Button Bonus Material on this site. I've always enjoyed the challenge of coming up with some sort of cross-promotional piece that'll back up the main article, whether it's just a simple collection of video trailers or a more detailed bit of text background. This one, however, is a little out of the ordinary.
At the top of the MostlyFilm piece is a map showing the 28 cities where I watched films for the series. What if I told you that really, it should have been 29 cities? And that there was a lost MMC film review that never made it to publication? And that you're going to get to see that previously unpublished review right now? Would that impress you? Would it?
The whole internet loves MostlyFilm, a lovely website that loves everything apart from late period Steven Moffat!
*7 years later*
We regret to inform you the website is dead
It was a good run, let's be honest. When a bunch of refugees from Film Unlimited (including myself) first floated the idea of running our own movie blog back in 2011, we had no idea how long we could sustain it. It's amazing looking back at those first posts and realising that between us, we were churning out five new pieces of content every week. It took quite a long time, but gradually that enthusiasm wore off: the frequency dropped off to three posts a week, and then irregularly, while the editor's task of coordinating all the people involved became less and less fun.
For the last couple of months, the site has been kinda just been sitting there while we've been batting around a few ideas for a reboot, and eventually coming to the conclusion that we're more or less spent. A lesser website would have just pulled down the shutters at that point and walked away. We, however, are not a lesser website. We are Europe's Best Website. And so, over the next three weeks (taking us into the start of 2018), MostlyFilm will see one final burst of activity - a series of posts looking back on the last seven years, wrapping up a number of our ongoing series, and continuing to do things that you wouldn't expect from a site that's mostly about film.
And on the topic of doing things that you wouldn't expect, this lap of honour starts with a piece of mine called Netflix i Chłód, in which I review the half a dozen Polish stand-up comedy specials available on Netflix. The prospect of providing Red Button Bonus Content for that is a little daunting, but I'll see what I can do.
I imagine most of you have made some sort of wallchart to accompany the BrewDogging posts on here. You've listed all of the BrewDog bars currently open across the planet - maybe you've even plotted them out on a big map - and you've been marking them off one by one as we've been visiting them. You're probably eagerly anticipating the day when we can say we've had a drink in every single one.
Well, spoiler alert: that's probably not going to happen. The primary reason for that is the BrewDog bar in São Paulo. Yes, I was in the city back in 2012, two years before the bar opened, but that was for work. Even Brazilians will admit that São Paulo has nothing to offer the casual tourist, which is what we'd be if we were visiting it for BrewDogging purposes. We'd have to expend a lot of effort and money just so we could have a cheeky drink or two.
Saudi Arabia's the same, but without the cheeky drink or two. Riyadh is purely a business city, and there's no reason you'd go there as a tourist: there's no actual method of doing it either, given that they don't offer tourist visas anyway. So when I went there back in May this year - primarily for work, but also to research an amusingly futile Monoglot Movie Club piece for Mostly Film called The Secret Life Of Arabia - I did wonder if writing up my usual set of travel tips would work as backup material. It's quite possible they would be of no use to absolutely anyone else reading this.
Mind you, that's never stopped me before, so here goes.
Many tales will be told of the month I've just had. Eventually, at least. You know what it's like around here.
In brief: those of you with a reasonable capacity for logical deduction may have worked out that I was on holiday in Hong Kong with The Belated Birthday Girl at the start of May 2017. You know my views on HK, if you're a regular reader: it's The Funnest Place On EarthTM, and that continued to be my opinion throughout the week we were there. Just one week, though: and at the end of that, we got on a plane and spent the following week in Japan, where even more fun stuff happened.
So, a very enjoyable holiday in two of our favourite countries, which concluded when we landed back at Heathrow on the morning of Sunday May 14th. A mere eight hours later - following a dash home to drop off the suitcase and pick up a second, pre-packed one - I was on another plane out of Heathrow, for a week of working in Dubai. I came back early on the following Friday morning, hung around for about 24 hours, and then flew off again to spend my first ever week in Saudi Arabia, again for work purposes.
To summarise: I've spent each of the four weeks of May 2017 in a different time zone. Currently I'm back in London, but don't ask me what time it is right now, because I have absolutely no idea.
All of this travelling is going to be documented in a collection of posts that'll be turning up here over the next couple of months: as with last year's big holiday, I'm going to tease you initially with a video featuring disturbing amounts of fire which will get explained eventually. But for now, the first major piece about my travels is the latest Monoglot Movie Club episode for MostlyFilm. Tales Of Asian Vengeance reviews the two movies we saw on our holiday - one from Hong Kong, one from Japan. If you want to see the trailers for the two films, they're linked to in the article itself: if you want to watch some more related video clips, they're in the Red Button Bonus Content section below.
If things go according to plan - bearing in mind, of course, that we currently live on a planet where the concept of 'things going according to plan' appears to have been completely abandoned - then during February, you should see three new posts on here covering the cities we visited on our Christmas holiday: Berlin, Warsaw and Krakow. Lots of sights were seen and lots of beer was drunk, so there'll be plenty to talk about there.
It was the first time ever in Poland for both The Belated Birthday Girl and myself, so that was a whole new set of experiences to process in itself: and, inevitably, one of those new experiences was seeing Polish movies without subtitles at the cinema. It didn't work out quite as successfully as I'd hoped, but the results are now documented in the traditional way, in an article on MostlyFilm entitled Monoglot Movie Club: Bipolar.
To spoil the article a little for those of you who haven't read it yet, we (eventually) watched the latest two episodes in a crime drama franchise called Pitbull. It's a series that's had a long and complex history, as I explain in the review: and you can experience that history right here, right now in this Bonus Content for the review, as I present a series of videos showing how Pitbull has evolved over the last twelve years. Caution: scenes of violence, sex and mucky Polish language will follow.
It's been nearly two months since I went on the Dubai trip that I've documented in my latest Monoglot Movie Club piece for MostlyFilm. You know, the one that finished with an overnight flight back to London where I got very little sleep and eight hours later had to go to my first film at the London Film Festival and DAMMIT, I still haven't done the Wrap Party roundup for that, it'll be coming soon, promise. Anyway, that one.
The piece in question is called Not Catching Your Drift, which is a moderately amusing reference to one of the films I saw there, the street-racing drama Hajwala. But it could have been quite different. Shortly after seeing the second movie, Bilal, I discovered that it was based on the early life of a real person: Bilal ibn Rabah, best known as one of the most loyal companions of the prophet Mohammed. Count yourselves lucky that I didn't go with my original title of The Fatwa And The Furious.
Providing Red Button Bonus Content for this post is going to be a little tricky: after all, it's the third visit I've made to Dubai this year, and I've more or less drained the well dry when it comes to travel tips and mall reviews. (In the case of the latter, the only new thing worth reporting on from this trip is the discovery of casual eaterie Common Grounds, close to the cinema inside the Mall of the Emirates.) So, below you'll just find a few trailers relating to the movies I saw.
I gave you a wee heads-up at the beginning of the month, but this is where it all officially starts. To whit: the next batch of posts here will all be covering the Nordic Expedition undertaken by The Belated Birthday Girl and myself in June 2016. Over a packed fortnight, we covered five cities in three countries - Norway, Sweden, and Finland - as the nights got longer and longer with the approach of Midsummer. And it all climaxed with the slightly peculiar scenes you can see in the video over there. It will get explained eventually, promise.
But in the meantime, let's get the inevitable out of the way first. We've been in three separate countries, each with their own film industry: surely there must be some Monoglot Movie Club possibilities in there? Of course there are. So over on MostlyFilm you can now read The Mexican Scand-off, the 26th MMC piece, taking the films we saw in each country and ruthlessly pitting them against each other.
Meanwhile, in this Red Button Bonus Content piece... well, I can't give you any travel tips about the cities we visited, because that's basically what the next five posts are going to be about. So we'll keep it simple with a bit about the films themselves and the cinemas where we saw them.