Streaming Options: The Wretched Review

One of the streaming titles to gain a lot of popularity since the beginning of the COVID-19-enforced lock-down is The Wretched, a supernatural horror film. Only playing on streaming platforms (including Amazon, Google Play, and YouTube) and some drive-in cinemas, the film has become a huge success due to a lot of big, blockbuster films that have been delayed. In fact, the film has become the first film since the 2018 superhero blockbuster, Black Panther to keep the top spot at the box office for 5 weeks.

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The film focuses on a young teenage boy, Ben (John-Paul Howard), who moves back in with father, who he has been estranged with since his parents’ divorce. He begins to suspect that his next-door neighbour, Abbie (Zarah Mahler) is actually being possessed by an ancient witch, harming her family around her. With the help of his new friend, Mallory (Piper Curda), he must find a way to stop her from hurting him or his family.

From the outset, you can tell that the plot feels very inspired by the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rear Window, in how Ben begins to spy on his neighbours, and begins to suspect that something is not quite right with them. In this scenario, Ben is James Stewart and his best friend, Mallory is Grace Kelly. It’s so similar in fact, that Ben is actually wearing a case throughout the film, having just broken his arm.

You could also compare the film to Disturbia, a 2007 thriller, which was essentially a rip-off of Rear Window, but instead, done from a more teenage perspective. This is essentially what this film does – it tells a Rear Window-type plot from a teenage perspective, but mixes it with more supernatural chills. In fact, the film owes more of a debt to kids’ films, like the fun 2007 animated movie, Monster House (in which young teenagers investigate their supernatural house next door) and the 2008 fantasy adventure, The Spiderwick Chronicles (in which a teenage boy and his siblings fight against demons and ghouls).

This is a little bit of a problem of the film, as is sometimes uncomfortably mixes teen angst and drama with genuine scares and chills. It is a similar problem that the recent film, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in which it branded itself as properly scary horror film, but was also a movie that needed a primarily young target audience.

By extension, the feels like it should be a lot scarier than it is. There are certain sequences at the beginning that are quite chilling, like the actual monster itself, and seeing it appear subtly in baby monitors or the corner of Ben’s eye. It’s almost like seeing a teen version of Paranormal Activity at some points. However, it feels like it slightly abandons this after around half an hour, and the film trades in scary chills for more of an adventure, exciting thrill ride.

This is another problem about the film – is that sometimes there is just too much going on. Other than struggling to balance a variety of tones and target audiences, there is a lot of plots and story threads that the film is trying to go for. The film is about Ben, his development and his relationships, as well as dealing with the threat next-door, that turns into a supernatural threat.

There is also a large amount of characters and actors vying for screen-time. Although, it is definitely Ben’s story, other characters include his father, his father’s girlfriend, Mallory, her sister, Abbie, her family, and many more. Not only that, but on top of all of this, the film then tries to do 2 big twists at the end. It almost feels like the script was trying to be too ambitious and trying to do too many things, that it doesn’t end up that successful doing any of them.

That being said, the film is still very pacey and thrilling. The film is very well-directed by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce. They might be a little out of their element directing a full-on, scary horror film, and would probably be better crafting more a children adventure film. However, saying that, they are still capable of making a movie that is fun, entertaining and exciting, with many thrills and some relatable and interesting characters.

Overall, The Wretched is a perfectly fine diversion. It isn’t perfect, and possibly needs a little bit of more work put into the script, and overall thought put into exactly what it wanted to be. However, saying that, if you are looking for a fun, pacey and thrilling horror movie, then you should definitely give this a watch.

Rating: 6/10

Streaming Options: The Vast of Night review

If you are looking for a bit of sci-fi fix during lock-down, then you should definitely check out the newest Amazon Prime original, The Vast of Night. The film was first shown at the Sundance film festival in 2019, and was then brought by Amazon Studios, who are screening it free for anyone with an Amazon Prime subscription. It can also be screened in certain drive-in theatres in the US, and let me tell you this is the sort of movie that is pitch perfect for a drive-in movie watching experience.

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The film is inspired by vintage 50s-60s science fiction television, like The Outer Limits and especially, The Twilight Zone, with a healthy dose of The X Files also thrown into the mix. In fact, the whole film is framed as an episode of a The Twilight Zone-type show, called Paradox Theatre – the film begins on a old-fashioned curved television with a fuzzy connection, with an authoritative-like narrator. And, at various times, the film slips back into this just to remind us of that framing device.

The film focuses on the relationship between teenage switchboard operator, Fay Crocker (played by Sierra McCormick) and young radio DJ, Everett (Jake Horowitz), two people living in a small, desolate town in New Mexico. The two soon start investigating strange sounds coming out of the radio and switchboard, which leads to them discovering various stories from the townsfolk about close encounters and alien invaders.

Much in the same way as Mulder and Scully in The X-Files, Fay and Everett are contrasting and opposing figures that bicker, argue and have really great chemistry. Fay is more of a wide-eyed, optimistic figure, who wishes to stay in this small town, while Everett is more of cynical, arrogant and charming figure, who is desperate to get away from this town. And, as is the case with The X-Files (the early seasons, especially), the two have brilliant chemistry, but it never really slips into a sexual, or romantic pairing, and is much more effective only hinted at. This small piece of characterisation works really well, and is elevated by great performances McCormick and Horowitz.

The film is a really wonderful jump back into science fiction, a genre of which has gone by the wayside slightly ever since the COVID-19-influenced lock-down began. I mean, since big block-busters have been delayed until September, it’s obviously we would be getting a lot less of effects-driven sci-fi movies. However, The Vast of Night is much more of a low-budget affair for sci-fi movies, centring more on the unseen threat that is looming in the skies.

The film has a very standard, ordinary way of telling it’s story, and never feels the need to be subversive or satirical in any way. The film is unlike the works of filmmakers like, say, Edgar Wright or Jordan Peele, which are trying to balance soft parody with an actual story – this is down-the-middle sci-fi story told completely straight. It is clearly made by someone with a real affinity for this kind of genre, as director, Andrew Patterson (in his directional debut, no less) gets all the details about this era completely spot-on, from the clothes, the cars, the old-fashioned TVs and the old-fashioned circuit boards. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it really does feel like you are transported back to the late 1950s. And, much is the same way as these old-fashioned sci-fi shows, the experience that these kids are going through does feel genuinely wonderful and thrilling. It really evokes the awe and wonder that is felt like watching The X Files and other sci-fi films, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

Patterson also has a great visual style to offer, and in particular, the camera work done by cinematographer, M.I. Littin-Menz is very interesting. The film is not afraid to hold a shot for a long time, and gives us many long panning shots and uses of steadicam. For example, there is a shot of Fay doing work on the circuit system that holds for a very long time and doesn’t cut away.

There is also a really extraordinary sequence, in which the camera pans from Fay to Everett, who are on different sides of the town. All done in one long, ambitious sequence, the camera glides through the air, going past people and cars, and brings to mind similar sequences in recent Oscar winner, 1917 and latest Netflix original, Extraction.

There is a mixture between this and some more intricate camerawork. This sort of camerawork feels very inspired by the works of Edgar Wright – it is fast, quick, with loads of edits. It also places a big emphasis on close-ups, like keys going into the ignition, or records being put on a record player. It’s the mixture, between the these two opposing styles – the long, panning shots and the fast, quick edits – that give the film a really unique and interesting visual style.

This visual style is also very arresting in other areas. In another strange sequence, Kay and Everett talk to some on the radio about his close encounter experience, and the film literally cuts to black for quite a long time (about 1-2 minutes long) while the listener talks about his experiences. This is a heavily ambitious, and quite strange moment that just adds to the film’s unique visual style.

Overall, the film’s visual style is fantastic, the cast are really wonderful and it beautifully captures the era it is portraying, but overall, I yearned for more substance. The film is just really an exercise in style – the story does sometimes lack a bit of depth – but saying that, it is a really great exercise in style.

The Vast of Night is overall, a really lovely movie that really clicks. For anyone in the mood for a good, old-fashioned piece of sci-fi, particularly with the lack of sci-fi entertainment at a time like this, The Vast of Night is really worth watching. So, if you have an Amazon Prime account, definitely check this out.

Rating: 8/10

Horror Tuesday: Onibaba (1964) Review

One of the most iconic pieces of J-horror of all-time is Onibaba, a 1964 film directed by Kaneto Shindo. Much like the 1999 J-horror film, Audition (also covered on here), the film has gathered a legion of fans from critics and other directors, including Edgar Wright and Mark Kermode, the latter of which has called it one of the “scariest films” he’s ever seen.

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The plot follows two unnamed women – one young (Jitsuko Yoshimura) and one middle-aged (Nobuko Otowa) – who are joined together because of younger woman’s marriage to the older woman’s son. Due to the son being off in the Civil War, the women are left on their own, and begin to kill soldiers to steal their possessions. Meanwhile, another man, Hachi (Kei Sato) moves in near them, and begins an attraction to the younger woman, and this drives a wedge between the two women.

Much like Audition, Onibaba is a really haunting experience, that has an uneasy and queasy tension through a lot of it’s run-time. But, crucially, the real scary part of the film comes in the last part of the movie, during the last 10 minutes. That is where the movie shows it’s to be really terrifying picture.

At the beginning, the film is actually a slow building 3-parter, surrounding around the Younger Woman, Older Woman and Hachi. Shindo has real confidence in the movie, and is perfectly fine with the movie centring purely on these 3 actors. It sounds like from the outset, that it might of had a sitcom-like format, however, that shouldn’t put you off – the sheer lack of actors and characters just adds to the film’s haunting atmosphere.

Also, all the actors pull it off. Yoshimura, Otowa, and Sato are all really good, and really embody their characters brilliantly. All 3 of the characters are also really well-developed and fleshed out, and this makes for complex viewing. Much in the same way as a lot of J-horror films, this film does not have many heroes or villains, and in fact, we are aligned to relate to every character, despite their questionable actions.

The film is also not that action packed, and can be a little slow at times. But much in the same way as the films of David Lynch, the film is all about atmosphere and mood. Much of this comes from the uneasy silence that permeates the film. Shindo is a filmmaker who prefers not to have much dialogue in his films, and this just makes Onibaba all the more uncomfortable and uneasy.

What’s so impressive about the film is that you can often feel what is coming off the screen. For the most part, cinema is a visual experience, that you can see and hear, but Onibaba feels like more than that. When the characters are dealing with extraordinary heat, you can feel how uncomfortable and distressed the characters are with this.

Weather also plays a big part of the film. Along with the sizzling heat, there is sometimes rain that comes into play. The rain just punctuates the drama and dread that the audience and characters are feeling. Not only that, but the weather also acts as a sort of pathetic fallacy, as it often happens when something bad is about to happen, and this becomes a huge warning for viewers.

The film also has some quite terrifying imagery. The iconic image of the Japanese mask appears throughout the film. Terrifying and scary, the mask is used by the older woman to scare the younger woman out of having an affair with Hachi. The mask is very frightening – it weird and surreal, and you can understand why it has become an iconic staple of Japanese horror culture.

This mask also plays into the heart-stopping, palpitating climax of the film. As is often a tradition with J-horror films (like Audition), the film is all pretty much a build-up to this climax, and this just makes it all the more terrifying. It is also great to see a movie have confidence in not having a completely tidy, non-ambiguous ending, and leave certain things left unanswered.

Overall, Onibaba is a really thrilling piece of J-horror. It is an iconic piece of Japanese cinema, and you should watch it just for that, but you should also check it out because it is a really thrilling, scary and well-crafted piece of horror cinema.

Streaming Options: Never Rarely Sometimes Always Review

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a real indie treat that you can now catch on streaming. The film had a brief theatrical run in cinemas during mid-March, before the COVID-19 pandemic took off, and it’s now available from all different streaming services. It is available from all the usual providers, including Google Play, Amazon and Youtube, where you can stream it for, at the cheapest, £3.49.

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The plot centres on a young 17-year-old girl, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), who suddenly gets pregnant. Feeling like she doesn’t want the baby, she decides to get an abortion, however, her local clinic doesn’t help her. She decides to travel to Pennsylvania with her cousin and best friend, Skylar (Talia Ryder), to get proper support for her decision.

The film is written and directed by indie director, Eliza Hittman, who was previously at the helm of 2015’s Beach Rats. The two lead stars, Flanigan and Ryder are very much unknowns, but I doubt they will be for much longer after the release of this movie. The closer thing that we get to a star in this movie is Theodore Pellerin, a small indie actor, appearing in the TV shows, On Becoming a God in Central Florida (2019-present) and The OA (2019). Hittman, and her two stars, Flanigan and Ryder are the real geniuses here, that make the film work so well.

The two central performances by Flanigan and Ryder are really quite terrific. For two very young actresses, Hittman is very confident with them, placing the movie squarely in their hands. Very much in the same vein as the lead performance by Julia Garner in another recent streaming title, The Assistant, these stars are often shot in tight, intense close-ups, and they pretty much appear in every single scene.

What is really wonderful about the performances, however, is how much they underact. Normally, when actors are portraying hormonal teenagers, they tend to overact, and make their characters almost caricatured. However, Flanigan and Ryder never do this – they play it a minimalist way, which is so refreshing to see. And Hittman is key here too, as she lets the actors breathe and perform, in a freeing way.

Hittman is really brilliant here as the director. She is very good at doing subtle film-making, than never feels the need to be melodramatic, or overwrought. She never feels the need to judge her characters or their actions, and this makes for very sensitive viewing. She also never feels the pressure to cut away frenetically, and lets the camera linger for a long time.

One of the scenes that brutally captures this is a scene in which Autumn has a consultation with a doctor about her abortion. This is where the title of the film comes into play, as the doctor asks Autumn to reply to her questions with either “never”, “rarely”, “sometimes” or “always”. The scene is really haunting, and through Flanigan’s performance, it beautifully tells a whole story in not many words.

The film also works so effortlessly because of the central relationship between our lead characters. Their relationship has echoes of the central characters’ relationship in the 1969 classic, Midnight Cowboy in how they don’t actually communicate that much with each other, but they don’t need to – they are so comfortable with each other, they don’t really need to talk.

There is a really beautiful scene that showcases this, in which the two get on each other’s nerves, Autumn gives Skylar a “fuck you”, Skylar gets angry and moves forward two seats, and then the two just silently reconcile. There is another beautiful scene in which, while Skylar is kissing a man to get money for the both of them, the two of them hold hands. Their relationship is sweet and soulful, and you can tell that Autumn has a special bond with Skylar, where many others don’t.

Hittman also treats the film’s central topic of abortion very uniquely. Many of the scenes involving abortion – from the first clinic talking her out of having an abortion to the uncomfortable and heartbreaking consultation that Autumn has with a doctor – feel painstaking real and authentic. It is really refreshing to see a movie take on such a touchy subject with real bravery and brio, as well as take on this subject and not judge any of the characters for their actions. The film never feels pro or anti abortion, and this is so refreshing to see.

Overall, Hittman has created a really wonderful film in Never Rarely Sometimes Always. She, and her two central stars, Flanigan and Ryder have turned this film into a engaging, immersive and very interesting experience. You should definitely check, because it’s definitely a contender for one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 9/10

Streaming Options: Extraction Review

A film that is gaining a lot of attention at the moment is Extraction, a recent Netflix original, that stars Chris Hemsworth in the lead. The film is directed by former stuntman, Sam Hargrave, and written by Joe Russo, the director of the biggest movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame, which of course, also starred Hemsworth.

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The film follows Tyler Rake (Hemsworth), a rebellious and loner black-market mercenary, who is hired to rescue the kidnapped son (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) of imprisoned international crime lord. But, being set in the murky underground of weapon dealers and drug traffickers, the already deadly mission becomes even harder and almost impossible.

Being called Netflix’s big action movie of the moment, that is gaining more attention because of the lack of content due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the film is gaining a lot of attention, and a lot of popularity and viewership. With all that buzz, the result is a little disappointing, albeit a perfectly fine serviceable action diversion.

The first half of the film is particularly solid and quite entertaining. It starts off well, and once we get to the central mission, it gains real momentum. Much has been made about how the film has a whole sequence around about half way through, that is all done in one continuous, interrupted shot. Much in the same way as this year’s Oscar winning, 1917, the sequence is heavily ambitious, going through buildings, up and down stairs, driving in cars, through gunfights, and even at one point, switches perspectives from different characters. Much like 1917, the sequence is incredibly visceral, and only makes the action and drama all the more intense.

Also, a lot of the fight sequences in the first half, particularly this one-shot sequence, are incredibly well-choreographed and thrilling. These sequences feel very inspired by the almost balletic fight scenes of Gareth Edwards’s The Raid films, or the John Wick films. These brilliantly put-together fight scenes just make the film so much more thrilling and intense.

But after the one long shot sequence, the film starts to go downhill. This really starts to happen when the film tries to incorporate some drama and depth into the film. This occurs when Rake goes to visit his former teammate, Gaspar (played by David Harbour), and during this, the film explores Gaspar and Rake’s history, as well as Rake’s tragic back-story. However, all the drama just doesn’t quite click into place. Harbour and Hemsworth are fine, but because of the cliched writing and quite dull direction, it all feels a little dramatically inept. It also feels like the film is attempting to play the part of a really good action movie, by adding some depth to the film, but not really putting the effort into making the drama innovative or particularly interesting.

Another part of the film that has gained a lot of attention is the film’s excessive violence. Towards the end of the film, there is a hell of a lot of people who get shot and killed. And after a certain amount, it really starts to loose it’s power. The viewer just ends up feeling desensitised to the violence, and it has no impact in the slightest. Also, the violence never feels as visceral or gruelling as it should be. For an 18-rated film (or “R” in the United States), it doesn’t feel like they really take proper advantage of this, and violence ends up lacking a real bite or edge.

Other than that, the performance by Hemsworth is fine, but that’s pretty much it – just fine. He is trying to be very serious here, and he lacks the comedic ability he has gained over the past few years (with projects like Men in Black: International and 2016’s Ghostbusters), and the charisma he brings to a role like Thor. However, if he is attempting to be the serviceable type of action hero, he is perfectly fine at doing that, although this is a little disappointing, considering we’ve seen him do so much more.

Extraction is a little bit a film of two halves – the first is actually pretty good, but the second half lets it down. But, saying that, considering that most of us don’t have much to do at the moment, Extraction is a perfectly serviceable diversion, that much in the same way as The Lovebirds, will pass the time finely.

Rating: 6/10

Streaming Options: The Lovebirds Review

One of the first movies to have been bought by Netflix amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is The Lovebirds, a film that was originally going to have a proper cinema release. However, it feels like it might have found it’s right home at Netflix, as the streaming service specialises in making light, frothy but quite fun comedies.

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The film follows a couple, Jibran (Kumail Ninjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae), who when they first meet, are deeply in love and crazy about each other, but fast forward 4 years later, the two are constantly at each other’s throats. On the verge of breaking up, they are brought together when they witness a murder, and become embroiled in a murder mystery. While attempting to clear their name (and uncover the truth about the mystery), they must figure a way how they (and their relationship) can survive the night.

As you can tell, the film is very influenced by 2010’s Date Night and 2018’s Game Night in how it features a central couple who become caught up in a labyrinthe mystery all over the course of one night. The film is directed by Michael Showalter, who previously directed the 2017 comedy film, The Big Sick, also starring Ninjiani. The film has also had some unfortunate comparisons to last year’s middling Stuber, another film starring Ninjiani, that also centred on the chemistry he had with his co-star (that time with Dave Bautista).

It’s safe to say that from the outset, the film is much, much better than Stuber, but nowhere near as brilliant as The Big Sick. The film is a fairly entertaining and amusing comedy, and is often the case with Netflix comedies, it passes the time well enough. It might possibly be better viewed in the background while you’re doing something else.

The real problem with the film is that it isn’t as tightly-plotted or clever as it should be. Although I say the film has a complex mystery at it’s core, the mystery itself never feels as complex, labyrinthe or satisfying as it should be. The film also isn’t as intense, thrilling or suspenseful as it requires it to be. For example, there is a sequence in this film, in which our main characters are tortured by the bad guys (by taking either hot boiling grease to the face or a kick from the horse), and yet the sequence never feels intense or scary, and ends up coming across as a tonally inept and unfunny moment.

Overall, we never feel the danger that the characters are going through, and we’re always pretty much convinced that they will make it out of the night in tact. This is crucial, because if you think about all of the most famous mystery comedies movies (like the Pink Panther films, 1963’s Charade, or last year’s Knives Out), they always strike a brilliant balance between high-stakes tension and funny comedy.

This is a shame, because something that Showalter did with The Big Sick was to handle numerous different tones with a real grace and ease. Possibly the problem with the film is that unlike The Big Sick, the film doesn’t have the wonderful writing duo of Ninjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Without them, the film doesn’t really strikes it’s tonal balance perfectly. Also, the film doesn’t seem to have the depth or just, plain ambition of The Big Sick. It is a pretty straightforward, down-the-line mystery comedy that doesn’t try to do anything new.

That being said, the film is still pretty funny. Rae and Ninjiani are too absolute brilliant comedic figures, and unlike Ninjiani with Bautista in Stuber, the have really terrific and buzzing chemistry. Also, strangely because Rae does not have much of a cinema resume (apart from the 2020 film, The Photograph and the television series, Insecure), the two of them are very charismatic figures that the camera clearly loves.

The humour is pretty standard, and at times cliched for a modern comedy. It is almost a check-list for jokes – there is a bit where our lead duo start nervously talking in front of a police officer; a bit where they start singing at loud volume to a song on the radio; a bit where they are forced to go to a supermarket to change clothes, and many more. The comedy is not very clever, or particularly innovative, but saying that, I did laugh. It does pass the 5-laugh test with ease, and that’s mainly due to Rae and Ninjiani bringing sizzling energy to an otherwise unoriginal screenplay.

The Lovebirds overall, might not be as ground-breaking or brilliant as The Big Sick, but coming a year after the very mediocre Stuber, it is a welcome return to form for Ninjiani. Coming out on Netflix, the film passes the film finely and is a welcome distraction for anyone wanting new content.

Rating: 6.5/10

Streaming Options: The Assistant Review

One of the newest films that have taken to streaming due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is MeToo/ sexual harassment drama, The Assistant. The film was due to have a cinema release date around this time, but due to cinemas closing around the globe, the film has become available on all regular streaming platforms, including YouTube, Google Play and Amazon.

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The film is centred around on a young woman, Jane (played by Julia Garner), who begins an internship at a film production company, with the ultimate goal of becoming a producer. While dealing with the job’s long hours, and not being able to see her friends and family, she begins to face harassment and systemic oppression by her co-workers. Not only that, she begins to learn the shady behaviours and practises in use for hiring new female employees.

The film is a timely one, and one that could only be made now, in this day and age. It feels like it is very much set in a pre-Me Too era, and before Harvey Weinstein and Time’s Up. It’s a slightly painful movie, in that we see that all of the old practises (like bullying, sexual abuse and The Casting Couch) were were not only done, but also, blindly accepted by everyone around Jane.

The film, however, from the outset, sounds like it should be an acidic and angry take on these issues, however, the end result it much different. Don’t get me wrong, you will most likely leave the film feeling angry and disgusted, but the film itself is instead more of a slow, affecting drama, with more of a slow, methodical pace.

If the film was made by a filmmaker like, say, Spike Lee, the film would instead of had a more angry, spiteful and anarchist way of telling it’s story, and if it was told by a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino, it would possibility have more room for escapism and possibly a happy ending.

Instead, The Assistant dips into more of the misery involved, showing the pain-staking misery that Jane is feeling, and the dull, monotonous work that she is doing. In fact, the ending of this movie almost has a message that if she wants to succeed in this industry, then she must have to accept these horrors, and try her best to ignore them. This is why this film would pretty much only work now – in a world where these horrors have been widely publicised, the film feels like a haunting time capsule to a time that once was, or even more haunting, how it still is in some places.

This, by extension, is also what makes the film so interesting – it has a very “show, don’t tell” approach to it’s storytelling. The director, Kitty Green doesn’t straight up tell you what is happening in the office, but instead, let’s you make up your own perceptions of what’s happening. This is important as it puts you right in Jane’s shoes, as like her, we slowly uncover the horrors in the office.

This is extended by the way in which Green deals with the movie’s villains. Jane’s boss, who is doing all the shady encounters with his employees is actually never seen – only discussed by his employees and heard screaming and shouting over the phone. This makes it all the more effective, as we are left to imagine just how scary and awful he is.

This slow, affecting drama is kept throughout the whole movie, with the exception of one particular scene. In this scene, Jane goes to complain to a manager, Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen) about the sexual abuse, to which he at first acts sensitively, but as the scene progresses, almost laughs her out of the office. The scene then ends with an absolute brutal stinger from Wilcock, which not only spells out what is going on in the office, but, makes you realise the whole office is involved in an almost cult-like network that protects this sort of thing from getting out. And Green brilliantly does this all with 4 words – “you’re not his type”.

The scene is decidedly different from what we’ve seen before, and is the moment where the film really spells out what it is actually about. It is brilliantly performed by Macfayden (who you’d be fooled from the marketing is second biggest part of the film), who much like his character in Succession, gets the perfect mixture between false charm and creepy sliminess. But, ultimately this scene is absolutely crucial to the plot, as it just confirms to Jane what has been going behind closed doors.

Despite all of this, however, the film really belongs to Garner. The 26-year-old actress is finally getting a chance to show her talents in a lead role to a movie, having already appeared in the hit Netflix TV show, Ozark (of which she won an Emmy for). Appearing in almost every scene, she holds a confidence unseen by almost anyone her age. Also, Green often positions Garner in a tight close-up through a lot of the film, but she never struggles with this, and this only showcases her brilliant acting ability.

A haunting and timely portrayal of sexual abuse and workplace bullying, The Assistant is absolutely terrific. It is worth watching even it is just for seeing Garner’s acting talents, and the brilliance of Green behind the camera. You should definitely check it out, as it’s definitely one of the best films on streaming right now.

Rating: 9/10

Streaming Options: Calm with Horses Review

If you are running out of fresh, new films to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime (and also, AppleTV+ and Disney+), then one of the other options for you is Calm with Horses, the directional debut for Nick Rowland, from a screenplay by Joseph Murtagh. The film is available from the usual streaming providers, including Google Play, Amazon and YouTube to rent and buy, from the cheapest price of £3.49.

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The film is set in dark rural Ireland, in which the young ex boxer, Douglas “Arm” Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) is a feared enforcer for the drug-dealing Devers family. His devotion to the family, however, is divided; and this is made more complicated by him trying to be a good father to his autistic 5 year son, Jack, and his friendship with Jack’s mother, Ursula (Niamh Algar).

One of the most acclaimed films of the (to be fair, early) year so far, it fair to say that Calm with Horses is absolutely terrific. The film is a really emotional, hard-hitting drama that will leave you emotionally shattered by the end of it. It is also a really haunting portrait of a man who is properly torn between his personal and professional life.

That, for me, is the most successful element of this film. There have been countless dramas about a gangster caught between his criminal life and his personal life, and most of the time, they don’t do either of them successfully. There are some brilliant examples, obviously (like Goodfellas or Breaking Bad), but sometimes, it can feel like they don’t properly depict someone who is divided in his life.

One of the ways the film does this brilliantly is the supporting characters. In his personal life, he has Jack’s mother, Ursula, while on his criminal life, he has his best friend and partner in crime, Dymphna, played by Barry Keoughan. We really believe the connections that he has with both of these people, and his makes Arm’s divide even more heart-wrenching.

Also brilliant are these two supporting performances. Ursula is played by Algar, who has been an up and comer on the rise for the past few years, appearing in a variety of underrated projects, including the great television series, Pure (2019-present). While, Keoughan has been more of a mainstream actor, appearing in acclaimed movies like Dunkirk (2017), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) and American Animals (2018), whilst working with iconic directors like Christopher Nolan and Yorgos Lanthimos. The two give so much depth to what could of been one-note characters, as each of them are also going through a bit of a divide, albeit in a smaller-scale way.

But, the film really belongs to Jarvis. The actor is fairly new to the scene, and was a musician prior to this, only appearing in some high-profile projects like Lady Macbeth (2016) and Peaky Blinders (2019). And, what is really accomplished is that he doesn’t feel like a new actor, he really commands the screen, and has real gravitas. He overall, gives a really heartbreaking, emotional performance which makes you like him and feel empathy for him all at once.

Other than the performances, the film is also really well shot. It has really gorgeous cinematography, and this makes the film seem very sophisticated and classy. In particular, the car chase sequences towards the end are also really well shot. Car chase sequences are often really hard to get right, as they can sometimes appear messy and noisy in their construction, but Calm with Horses gets it really right, and they never appear confusing or discombobulated.

With a plot that is quite miserable in it’s concept, the end result for the film is that it could have easily of been misery porn. However, it never feels like that, mainly because there is a small strand of black humour running through the film. This comes from the interactions that Arm and Dymphna have with various other characters, and it really works and is very effective.

Overall, Calm with Horses is really terrific. It shows us that everyone involved (from director, Rowland to stars, Jarvis, Keoghan and Algar) has a bright future ahead of them, and is just a solid, emotionally-wrenching drama that really clicks. I will definitely be looking at it during my run-down of the best films of the year.

Rating: 8.5/10

Normal People – BBC Miniseries Review

Normal People is the new show that everyone is talking about. The 12-part series has taken over from Killing Eve and Bodyguard to become the BBC’s buzziest and most hyped new show. It is based off a book of the same name by Sally Rooney, which, like the TV show, received high acclaim from critics and audiences.

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The show has become a huge success, and has broke viewing figures records. It reportedly gave BBC Three it’s best ever in it’s first week on iPlayer, receiving 16.2 million programme requests. Overall, BBC Three has received up to 21.8 million requests for the programme, and this is doubled the amount of the previous record set by the first series of Killing Eve (which was 10.8 million). So, this only shows you the far-reaching and high success of this series.

The series stars newcomers, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal as it’s two leads, and is directed by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald. It follows two young people, Marianne Sheridan (Edgar-Jones) and Connell Waldron (Mescal), who meet in sixth form as 16-year-olds, and despite their contrasting personalities, begin a secret affair and fall in love. The series follows the couple through their university years to their undergraduate years, as they weave in and out of their romantic lives. Other central characters that recur through the series include Connell’s mother, Lorraine (Sarah Greene) and Marriane’s mother and brother, Denise (Aislin McGuckin) and Alan (Frank Blake), along with Marianne and Connell’s various friends.

It’s safe to say that this series really lives up to the hype, and is overall, really terrific, and ranks quite easily as one of the best TV shows of the year so far. The series starts off slightly slow, but grows over-time, to create some heartbreaking drama towards the end of the series.

At the beginning, we see Connell and Marianne at sixth form college, and this part is possibly a little bit disconnected from the overall narrative. It is very necessarily to the overall plot, as we understand that they have known each other since they were children, but the show starts to get really interesting when the characters enter university. This is where the characters start to deal with more grown-up challenges, and this makes for more mature and dramatically interesting drama.

From about episode 4 onwards, we see how a wonderful depiction of how people can weave in and out of people’s lives. For roughly about four to five years, the couple move away from each other, and get a series of different partners, yet they always find themselves coming back to each other. It is also a really wonderful portrayal of a person can grow and change over time, and trying to find a way to keep a relationship and romance alive while this is happening.

The ever-evolving dynamic between the two of them is also really interesting. This is especially true at the beginning, where Connell is very popular student at school, with a lot of friends, while Marianne is unpopular and bullied. However, this all changes when the pair enter university, and the dynamic flips – Connell struggles to fit in and becomes a quieter, less popular student, while Marianne flourishes, gaining popularity and beauty. However, as each other are the only ones who have seen each other in both university and school (apart from their family, obviously), we understand that they share a special bond where others do not.

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It is also lovely to see how both characters are filled with contradictions. Connell is handsome and popular, but also, quiet, shy and academically gifted, while Marianne is quiet, smart but also, rebellious and unruly all at once. This only makes both of the characters even more complex and interesting, and makes for a richer viewing experience.

One of the reasons why the show works so well is the performances by it’s two leads. They have both not appeared in many projects before – Edgar-Jones appeared in Gentlemen Jack and the 2019 adaptation of War of the Worlds, while, Mescal has appeared in a lot of stage shows – but this is the first big, leading role for the two of them.

The two are very young (21 and 24, respectively), and yet, they are both able to demand the screen very well. They are both able to handle their character’s large varying emotions, and transformations over time, and do this so well, showing that they have a maturity well beyond their years. They also really look the part – they are both good-looking, but do genuinely look like they could both be popular and unpopular at various levels of academia. It possibly needs a bit of a jump to get used to twenty-somethings portraying teenagers, but you can get used to that fairly quickly.

The series is also really wonderfully directed by Abrahamson and McDonald. The directors split the amount of episodes they direct – Abrahamson directs the first 6, while McDonald directs the last 6. Abrahamson has been a key director on the scene for the past decade – he was nominated for an Oscar for his work on the acclaimed 2015 drama film, Room, and also directed the terrific 2013 comedy movie, Frank.

The real revelation, here (apart from Edgar-Jones and Mescal, obviously) is McDonald. She has always been a bit of a “director for hire” – directing many episodes of various episodes of TV shows, like Doctor Who (including, directing possibly the show’s best episode – “Blink”) and Fortitude – however, with this series, she feels like a properly accomplished and sophisticated director.

What’s really wonderful about the direction is that it never feels like a show of two halves. There is definitely a big moment at the end of episode six, which sets up the rest of the series, but, that doesn’t mean that the series ever feels disconnected or badly paced.

Also, something that is so wonderful about the series is that it simultaneously has an over-arcing narrative, while having individual, stand-alone episodes. There are many episodes that feel like singular drama pieces, especially the latter episodes – including, an episode about Connell suffering from depression; an episode about Marianne in an abusive relationship, and an episode about Marianne and Connell’s adventures in Sligo. However, the series still manages to feel like a whole piece of entertainment, and this is probably due to Abrahamson and McDonald overseeing all the episodes.

Much like all the work of Abrahamson, the series is really hard-hitting and emotional, but also weirdly hopeful and life-affirming all at once. A real asset to this is the camera work, which uses a lot of shaky cam. This adds a realistic edge to the series, and only makes all the drama feel more hard to take.

The show feels so natural and realistic that it almost doesn’t feels like you are watching a TV show. It is instead just feels like you are watch two friends together. It may be because of each episode’s short running times (ranging from 23 to 34 minutes long), but often, it does feel genuinely surprising when each episode has ended.

There are some faults with the series, and this is down to some of the supporting characters. Some of the characters feel slightly one-note and caricatured, particular Marianne’s mother and brother, as well as one of her boyfriends, Jamie (Fionn O’Shea). They are all essential to the plot, as it advises why Marianne the way she is, but they could of just been written with a little more development or depth.

With the show proving a huge success, it does seem possible that the show will get a second season (even though there is no source material left to adapt). However, I, personally think that there is no need – I like how it is a one-off, as it works with the portrayal of young love. Also, the ending that we get is absolutely gorgeous.

Overall, being the new show that everyone is talking about, Normal People actually does live up to the hype. It is a sensual, heartbreaking, yet hopeful depiction of young love that will leave you devastated. It is definitely up there as one of the best TV shows of this year, and is certainly worth a look.

Rating: 9/10

Streaming Options: The Half of It Review

It seems like over the years, Netflix had made a name for themselves as producing very likable, warm, lovely if not ground-breaking original movies. There are certain exceptions to this rule (like Roma (2018) and The Irishman (2019)), but ultimately this seems to be Netflix’s niche. That seems to be exactly what they have done with their newest original movie, The Half of It, a coming-of-age comedy-drama.

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The film centres on student, Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a friendless teenager, who lives with her widowed father, and makes extra cash writing homework papers for her fellow students. Soon, popular football player, Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) asks her to write a love letter to Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), a girl who Ellie also happens to have a crush on. As Ellie and Paul continue this, complications arrives between the three of them, and a love triangle develops.

The film is one of the better teen movies to come out recently. The film has been inevitably compared to the 2018 teen phenomenon, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, also a teen movie and also, broadcast on Netflix. The film also has some comparisons to To All the Boys in it’s sweet romance and cute humour. Also, as is always the case with teen movies, the film has been inevitably compared to the work of John Hughes. Instead of the obvious examples (like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club), however, the film feels more influenced by his 1987 underrated gem, Some Kind of Wonderful, especially in it’s love triangle-based plot. Also, both of those films are unlike a lot of teen movies in how it is more melancholic and sombre, with only small bursts of subtle humour.

What is very successful about the film is the central performance by Lewis. She is a very empathetic figure, that is able to be funny, serious and charming in equal measure. Her voice is a real asset to her performance – it is deep, booming and makes her stand out. Her appearance is also really wonderful, as she looks properly “nerdy” and that she could be an outcast from the popular crowd. In this movie, Lewis has shown that she will probably have a big future ahead of her.

Despite that, however, the other main characters, Paul Munsky and Aster Flores, respectively, could of done with a little more development. The two actors (Diemer and Lemire, respectively) are perfectly fine, but the characters just could of done with a little more definition, as they end up feeling a little like one-note stereotypes.

Apart from that, however, the film is quite cute and sweet, for the most part. The plot is familiar and has been done before, but saying that it’s got a spin this time with it’s queer twist. It is very interesting and refreshing to see a teen film that a gay subplot, especially as it is just accepted and not discriminated by the other characters.

It’s also nice to see a film with an Asian woman as a lead in a Netflix Original. The subplot of seeing her Asian father not being able to speak proper English, and tries to understand language through watching many American movies (like His Girl Friday and Casablanca) is really quite lovely, and adds a realistic edge to the film.

There is also a particular visual style that Alice Wu brings to the film. This includes how after some scenes, we see a famous quote that somehow relates to the situation. Also, the film is shot very symmetrically, and in someways, has echoes of a Wes Anderson film. This visual style adds a fun and quirky edge to the movie, and makes it stand out from the usual teen romantic comedies.

Other than that, I really loved the film’s melancholic edge, and how it steered away from the regular joke-heavy teen movies. When the film tries to include more humour (around the end of the film), the end result is that it starts to feel a little out of place, and possibly a little unnecessary. However, for the most part, this makes The Half of It stick out from the crowded genre of teen coming-of-age movies.

Overall, The Half of It is a really entertaining and lighthearted coming of age movie. The film may not reinvent the wheel or anything, and doesn’t feel like a revival of the genre that some folks may think it will be. But, if you are looking for a sweet, cute and fun diversion, The Half of It is definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 7/10