Recent releases: I Care a Lot, Moxie and Willy’s Wonderland reviewed

I Care a Lot – This latest star vehicle for Rosamund Pike is a thriller from the mind of J Blakeson, who previously directed the 2009 thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed. Blakeson’s film is a film littered with loathsome and unlikable characters, including Pike, who plays Marla, a con woman who makes her shady living by getting guardianship over elders, and then exploiting them by selling their hones and their assets while they are locked away in old people’s homes.

The film has some funny moments, and from it’s bonkers premise alone, you can tell that this has elements of a Coen brothers black comedy, in the same vein of something like Burn After Reading. However, the main problem is that it is never as consistently (or effectively) funny as something like Burn After Reading. Also, it is never as actually thrilling as something like Gone Girl, where Pike made her star-turning role.

It’s also a film filled to the brim with unlikable characters, which sometimes (under the right director) can be very interesting, however, with this film, it proves very tiresome. It’s possibly because the protagonist never goes under much pressure or extenuating circumstances to get what she wants – it all happens very easily for her. In particular, there is one moment that makes her look almost superhuman, and her nastiness never feels properly earned. There are a lot of great scenes in this film, but it just doesn’t equal out to a satisfying whole. Pike is admittedly great in the leading role, and the supporting turns by Dianne Weist, Peter Dinklage and Chris Messina were also pretty good. However, I guess I just wanted more out of this movie. (6/10) (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Moxie: This latest Netflix movie is the latest film from Amy Poehler, who previously directed Wine Country, also broadcast on Netflix. This new film is a teen coming-of-age comedy, starring a variety of newcomers, including Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Pena and Nico Hiraga, among many others. It centres on a young teenage girl, Vivian (Robinson), who attempts to shake up her sexist and toxic school environment by publishing a feminist magazine. Soon enough, a feminist club is created, and the entire school is royally shook up.

Now, Wine Country may have been absolutely hilarious, but a lot of that was down to the hilarious performers, and less down to the directing or writing – in fact, Poehler’s direction was quite mediocre. You’ll be thrilled to hear that the Poehler has now upped her game, as Moxie is a really charming and adorable movie, with Poehler proving a steady hand at the helm. The film is filled with good, solid messages that manages to not feel preachy or annoying, and sharp and realistic details about the school environment. It a solid and charming coming-of-age tale that I’m sure pretty much everyone would like and enjoy. (Rating: 8/10) (Available on Netflix).

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things: Amazon Prime’s newest original is charming little time loop comedy, that is really entertaining. The plot centres on Mark (Kyle Allen), a teenage boy who has become trapped in an infinite time loop. Originally believing that he was the only one in this loop, he soon discovers that another teenager, Margaret (Kathryn Newton) is also trapped in the same time loop. While embarking on a quest to find all the “tiny perfect things” in the world, the two begin to fall in love.

As you can tell, the premise has echoes of Groundhog Day and even more to the brilliant soon-to-released comedy, Palm Springs. This doesn’t quite live up to those movies, but it’s still a really charming sci-fi comedy. The whole “tiny perfect things” element to the plot is a bit pretentious and unnecessary, but other than that, this really works on the strength on it’s charming performances, witty script and surprise factor. It definitely gone under the radar recently, but it’s worth checking out. (Rating: 8/10) (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Willy’s Wonderland: Ever since Mandy in 2018, Nicolas Cage has made a name for himself by giving overzealous, frenzied performances in a really fun, campy almost B-movies (other examples include Mom and Dad and Color Out of Space). And Willy’s Wonderland is no exception, a movie in which mainly centres on Cage going to war against a bunch of animated animatronic puppets while trapped in an abandoned restaurant.

There is a little more to the plot than that (including a bunch of teenagers (including Emily Tosta) who help Cage in his quest), but overall, the fun simplicity of the film is what really makes it. It’s really fun, funny (both intentionally and unintentionally), silly, and at times quite creepy (never really scary, but creepy). In particular, the animatronic puppets work really well, being actually properly chilling.

I sometimes wish there was a little more to the film – the film hints at Cage having more to him than meets the eye, but ultimately we never really discover much about Cage’s backstory, and that could of been really fun to discover. It was originally based off a short film, and it is an successful example of updating a short film to feature-length, however, I still wish there was a little more to it. (Rating: 7/10) (Available from most major streaming services, including Google Play and Amazon)

To All The Boys: Always and Forever: The third instalment to the To All the Boys… franchise, this sequel centres on Lara Jean (Emily Condor) making her way off to college. Originally planning to go school near her boyfriend, Peter (Noah Centineo), both Lara and Peter’s future is left up in the air when Lara begins to be tempted to go to school very far away.

The great thing about this sequel is that it does away with the contrived love triangle storyline of the second film, and instead, focuses on the more universal themes of growing up, going off to college and how this impacts those close to you. It all feels very emotionally real, and relatable, and stays true to these fun characters.

The film does lack the surprise factor of the original (the franchise does feel like it’s worn out it’s welcome), and there are much better, more polished teen coming-of-age movies on this list (especially Moxie and Map of Tiny Little Things), but this movie is still pretty cute and worth a look. (Rating: 6/10) (Available on Netflix)

Other new movies:

The Owners – A nasty and cruel little horror movie that never really lives up to it’s interesting potential (Rating: 4/10)

Framing Britney Spears – A really heart-breaking and insightful documentary about the life of Britney Spears (Rating: 8/10)

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar – A extremely silly and larger than life comedy that bombs and makes you laugh in equal measure. A complete load of nonsense that you should definitely check out. (Rating: 7/10)

The United States vs. Billie Holiday – Audra Day (in her Golden Globe-winning role) shines in an otherwise safe, overlong and unfocused biopic. (Rating: 6.5/10)

Why WandaVision may be the MCU’s crowning achievement

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has pulled off many, many impressive achievements over the past 12 years. It has brought many iconic comic book characters to life; given us so many brilliant, complete character arcs (especially Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Chris Evans’s Captain America); given us some absolutely brilliant films (especially Thor: Ragnarok, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and 2012’s The Avengers), and of course, with Avengers: Endgame, created the biggest (and by that, I mean highest-grossing) film of all time. But, with their newest project, WandaVision, they have may have created their finest and crowning achievement.

The television miniseries consisting of 9 episodes (6 of which has already aired), was first announced over two years, with the aim being to branch out the television content for the MCU, and also give a solo project to both Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff/ Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany’s Vision, two characters extremely underused in the film series. When the series was first announced back in 2018, we all thought it would be a fairly average and possibly cynical cash-grab, with the aim of just setting up future MCU story-lines. However, we didn’t know that the end result would be funny, witty, strange, and in many ways, very revolutionary television.

The series is set three weeks after the end of Avengers: Endgame, in which Wanda has gone mad with grief after Vision’s death, and has created her own reality in the town of Westview. Now, Vision has suddenly come back to life, all the townspeople of Westview have become Wanda’s puppets, and every day of her life plays out like a classic sitcom, in which Wanda and Vision get themselves into lighthearted, sitcom-like scraps, all of which is resolved before the end of the episode. And, there is much more to the show than that, including the return of Wanda’s dead brother, Pietro (with a new face), the arrival of Wanda and Vision’s two twin children, seemingly out of nowhere, and the mysterious life of the townsfolk, especially including Wanda’s meddlesome neighbour, Agnes (played to perfection by Kathryn Hahn).

For the first three episodes of WandaVision, the show plays out just like a regular sitcom. Wanda and Vision have just gotten married, they have moved to a suburban neighbourhood, and all of a sudden, have two babies. The series has a ingenious premise, in which each episode homages sitcoms, but changes decade each time it does so. The first episode is a homage to the 50s sitcom, I Love Lucy, while the second episode plays homage to Betwitched (the 60s) and the third episode is a take on The Brady Bunch (the 70s).

What was so brilliant about the first few episodes is the series’ confidence in knowing the audience would carry on watching. WandaVision is innovative in that it could only really be successful in the way that it has been created – part of a huge film series in which we know that the two main characters have much more to them than meets the eye. Think about how rough these first episodes could of been if it was proper, studio-produced television show – they would of felt forced to reinforce every episode that things are not quite as they seem, while WandaVision never felt the need to do that.

It took until the series’ fourth episode, “We Interrupt This Program” to reveal that there was something else afoot. Sure, we’ve had hints of it (the odd scene of the neighbour choking; the arrival of the “beekeeper” and “Geraldine” being suddenly ejected out of Westview), but it wasn’t until the fourth episode that we suddenly realised that there was a completely different vision (see what I did there) in store for this series. This series introduced a police-procedural like format, in which various characters, including Monica Rambeau (revealed to be “Geraldine” from inside Westview), Jimmy Woo, and Darcy Jennings attempt to solve the mystery of what is happening at Westview.

The following two episodes (and this may even change again in the last three episodes, we don’t know yet) changed the formula once again. In this episode, we return to Wanda, Vision, Agnes, their two kids and later, Pietro inside Westview as they continue to act out sitcom-like fantasies. In the fifth episode, it is 80s/90s sitcoms, like Family Ties or Full House (complete with an out-of-character dramatic “special episode”), while the sixth episode saw them homage early noughties sitcoms, like Malcolm in the Middle. While all this is happening, we cut back and forth from this sitcom fantasy to “the real world”, where Darcy, Rambeau and Woo all try to solve what is really happening.

One of the most wonderful things about the show is that following the end of each episode, we are left with numerous questions and theories about what is really happening. It lives up to modern shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Good Place in that it favours cliff-hanger endings, and raising numerous questions about what is really going on. The series gives us just enough information about what is happening, and answers as many questions as it does raise new mysteries.

However, what is so revolutionary about the series is that while reinforcing a very modern, 21st century style of storytelling, it also embraces a more old-fashioned type of storytelling at the same time. In each episode of Wanda’s sitcom reality, we witness a proper, fully fleshed-out episode of television – one that has a beginning, middle and end. They are written like proper sitcom episodes in that they have some dramatic, character-based moments, while also being actually really funny at the same time (Bettany singing in the first episode was a particular highlight).

We are most definitely living in the golden age of television, and ask anyone nowadays and they’ll tell you that television is pretty much as good as film. However, sometimes, that is not always a good thing. I mean, if television really is as good as film, and vice versa, then ultimately what is the point in having both mediums. Wandavision stands out amongst the crowd as it has to be a television show. There is no way that they could tell this story in a film-based narrative, and that’s what is so ingenius about it.

And, not to mention, it does all of this while being very meta and self-referential about television, film and comic books, and raising intriguing mysteries along the way. It’s honestly one of the most delightfully weird and strange television shows to come out in a long time. And it comes from one of the biggest, most mainstream production companies. It’s a show full of contradictions – it is niche yet mainstream, funny yet dramatic, silly yet with serious, hard-hitting consequences.

In the future, WandaVision will be seen as a show that manages to embraces all different types of storytelling (and does it successfully), but more than that, it may in fact be the MCU’s absolute crowning achievement.

Malcolm and Marie Movie Review

Is Sam Levinson’s new movie, Malcolm & Marie the start of a new kind of film-making? Conceived, written, filmed and edited during the COVID-19 pandemic, Malcolm & Marie marks the first big blockbuster to be newly filmed during these troubled times, announced in a time where films were being pushed back indefinitely, or upcoming projects where being abandoned entirely.

Filmed in beautiful black-and-white, Levinson directs Zendaya and John David Washington, two upcoming young stars, in a film that is very little on plot. It centres on a filmmaker, Malcolm Elliott (Washington) who returns home from a premiere of his newest film with his actress girlfriend, Marie Jones (Zendaya). Over time, the pair become more and more volatile, discussing in detail their relationship and their respective careers.

Due to the pandemic, the film had to be filmed with extreme precaution, including constant temperature checks and enforced quarantined time for all the cast and crew. Also, the film’s premise feels very pandemic inspired – set all in one location, all done with just two actors, and mainly set around dialogue.

There have been many great material that has been produced in lock-down, however, never really this big. Host – a found-footage horror movie set all on a Zoom call – was a particularly great “lockdown movie”, while in the music world, Taylor Swift has produced two of the greatest albums of her career, with both “Folklore” and “Evermore” being created and released in 2020. This feels like the very first time, however, that something has been created with such huge big stars, with Levinson, Washington and Zendaya all being on the huge rise over the past 2-3 years.

Because of the film’s singular location and dialogue-centric plot, there is an old-fashioned, “throwback” nature to this movie. It feels very similar to the “talky” movies of the 80s like My Dinner with Andre, Sex, Lies, and Videotape or The Breakfast Club, while Zendaya and Washington feel like the sort of beautiful, glamorous and charismatic couples of classic Hollywood like Bogart and Bacall or Hepburn and Tracy.

And, it’s great to see this sort of old-fashioned movie broadcast of such a big platform, and to be debuted with such big buzz. In the future, because of COVID-19 restrictions, we will definitely be seeing a lot more restricted, minimalist movies with fewer locations and fewer stars but just done with bigger stars and auteurist filmmakers. And, that quite an excited place to be in for the future of film.

However, in terms of Malcolm and Marie, the film itself is quite disappointing. There are many great things about it – one of it’s great visual style. The black-and-white cinematography is really beautiful and dazzling. Also, the camerawork is really terrific, and Levinson definitely has a big future ahead of him as an innovative filmmaker, much like his father before him. From the opening moment of an attention-grabbing panning shot of Washington dancing around his house, you know that this is going to be a really visually-staggering movie.

Much of visual style is let down by a mediocre script. I know it sounds bizarre to say, for a movie set around dialogue, but there is almost too much talking and too much dialogue in this film. Even the most dialogue-centric movies have moments of quiet and moments of subtle ease that gives the viewers a much-needed relief and gives us time to know and love the characters. It ultimately feels like Levinson hasn’t got enough confidence in himself, and therefore, just fills his script with STUFF, many of which has very little meaning or depth. The end result is a script lacking in subtlety, grace or wit and filled to brim with heavy-handed and annoying monologues (including a particularly painful one delivered by Washington about how much he hates film critics and how little they contribute to society).

Zendaya and Washington do their very best with this material, though. They have been up-and-coming rising stars over the past few years, both appearing in a mixture of blockbusters and independent films (Zendaya appearing in Euphoria and the Spider-Man films, while Washington appearing in Oscar nominee, BlacKkKlansman and 2020’s blockbuster, Tenet), and it will be great to see where they go next following this film.

The film possibly works best as an idea, only, and maybe doesn’t work as well as feature length movie that you have to sit though. There is a certain thrilling tension that comes in the first half, when Zendaya has quiet grievance towards Washington, but the moment when the two of them have to start talking about their feelings, the film becomes slightly tiresome and annoying.

Still, it’s very obvious that Levinson has a bright career ahead of him, as do Washington and Zendaya. Malcolm and Marie highlights the strengths of all three artists; it’s just a shame that it’s not coming from a film that a little more fleshed out and professional.

Rating: 6/10

Top 15 Films of 2020 (that aren’t Parasite)

With all theatres closed, and a lack of films being made (due to a small thing called a pandemic happening), you’d think that there would be no films to make up a top films list this year. However, you’d be wrong. With streaming services, especially Netflix, being active and continuously to pump out films, there have been many, many great films to come out this year.

Now, let’s get this out of the way – Parasite is the best film to come out in 2020 (although some argue that it technically came out in 2019). Parasite is the best film to come out over the past decade. Parasite is the best film to come out since the turn of the century. Parasite might be the best film to ever come out, possibly ever.

The South Korean black comedy thriller has received widespread critical acclaim and even became the surprise Best Picture winner earlier this year. It’s been talked about to death (and mainly on this blog), and it’s definitely my favourite film of the year, so I thought it would be more refreshing to go through all the other best films that categorically AREN’T Parasite.

So, here are my favourite films of 2020 that are not Parasite:

First, some honourable mentions: The 40-Year-Old Version, The Assistant, Calm with Horses, His House, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Swallow, The Vast of Night, Weathering with You & Wolfwalkers 

15. Host

In history, this film will go down as possibly the first “pandemic movie”. The found footage horror film centres on a group of friends who perform a seance via a zoom call, and it’s thrilling tense, scary and wonderfully fun. It’s also gloriously short, at only 65 minutes. It’s definitely the most important horror movie of the year. I can’t wait to see what other creative avenues filmmakers are going to do with the pandemic in 2021 and beyond.

14. Saint Frances

Saint Frances is one of the most delightful and sweet surprises of the year. The plot is simple – set around a 34-year-old waitress, Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan), who attempts to change her life by getting a job as a nanny to the annoying and bratty six-year-old, Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). The film is not revolutionary or life-changing, but remains a real bittersweet and charming treasure that has definitely gone under the radar this year.

13. Bad Education

Now, technically this counts as a television film, broadcast on HBO in the United States earlier in the year. It stars Hugh Jackson as a school superintendent, and Allison Janney as his assistant superintendent, who are both involved in an illegal embezzlement scheme that is soon discovered by the authorities. The film is brilliantly directed by Cory Finley (who previously directed 2017’s underrated Thoroughbreds), who makes it feel like a mixture between The Big Short, I, Tonya and Catch Me If You Can, and features an absolute career-best performance by Jackson (and Janney is great too).

12. Rocks

This indie gem was broadcast on Netflix earlier in the year, and was a real treat. The film flirts with some heavy subject matter – centring on a young teenage girl, Olushola (nicknamed “Rocks”), who has to deal with her mother abandoning her and her little brother – but the real wonderful thing about it is that it remains full of joy and humour. It also features some star-making performances by it’s child actors, particularly lead, Bukky Bakray.

11. Mank

This David Fincher-directed biopic about the making of what many critics call the “greatest film ever made”, Citizen Kane is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those interested in film history, it was definitely a real treat. It’s possibly the most gorgeous and visual dazzling movie to come out this year (shot in beautiful black-and-white, and featuring some innovative, Orson Welles-inspired camerawork), and features an Oscar-worthy performance by Gary Oldman (also, Amanda Seyfried is an absolute revelation). This Netflix gem is really terrific, and has continued to establish that Fincher truly is one of the best filmmakers of his generation.

10. Bacurau

This Weird Western from the mind of Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonca Filho comes close second as being the biggest genre mesh-up of 2020 (the first obviously being Parasite). Centring on the inhabitants of a small Brazilian town, who are beset by an array of strange events (including but not limited to futuristic drones flying in the sky), the film is part sci-fi, part western and part violent thriller. With influences raging from Black Mirror, Tarantino and John Carpenter, this odd flick is definitely an experiment that for the most part, really pays off.

9. Small Axe: Lovers Rock

Steve McQueen’s Small Axe has been one of the many joys of 2020. The anthology series, consisting on five distinct stories looking at London’s West Indian community in the late 60s to 80s, brilliantly blurred the lines between television and film. Many of the films (or episodes, whatever they are) are terrific, particularly the police drama, Red, White and Blue and insightful drama, Education, but the absolute best remains Lovers Rock.

The drama centres on two lovers who meet at a Reggae house party in the 1980s, and strikes a wonderful balance between being a cinematic, beautiful pleasure and discussing issues and problems deeply prevalent in our society. It’s a really beautifully shot movie (with lots of one-shot camera takes) and filled to the brim with great music. Small Axe has been terrific, and I can’t wait to see what McQueen does next.

8. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

This subtle and quiet film from Eliza Hittman (13 Reasons Why, Beach Rats) introduces us to two future stars in Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder. The plot is quite uncomplicated – it centres on a young teenage girl, Autumn (Flanigan), who must travel to Pennsylvania to get abortion, and does so with the help of her cousin and best friend, Skylar (Ryder). It has echoes of the 1960s Best Picture winner, Midnight Cowboy, and remains a wonderful example of “show, don’t tell” film-making. Hittman directs the film absolutely beautifully, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

7. 1917

This Sam Mendes-directed war epic was almost the leading choice to win Best Picture before Parasite came along and surprised every-one. And, it remains absolutely great. What it lacks in narrative momentum (essentially being centred on two young soldiers in World War 1 who set off on a large trek to deliver a message), it makes up for in ground-breaking visual prowess, appearing like it is all filmed in one, continuous shot. It does so with brilliant direction by Mendes and incredible cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins. Although, I’m obviously very glad that Parasite won Best Picture, 1917 was a very, very worthy runner-up.

6. The Trial of the Chicago 7

This Netflix historical legal drama was probably the best Netflix Original of the year. It is directed by world-renowned screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network), and centres on – as the title depicts – the notorious trial of the “Chicago Seven”, organisers of a protest that soon turned violent and destructive. The film is utterly riveting and heart-breaking, and is filled with great performances (especially by a surprisingly brilliant Sacha Baron Cohen) and some brilliant editing. The real best thing about the film, however, is that Sorkin has proven himself to be a really good director. We always knew he was an amazing writer, but this movie proves he’s great behind the camera too.

5. The Invisible Man

Leigh Wannell’s The Invisible Man, a very modern-day take of H.G. Wells’ classic novel, is proof that you can still make great horror films in the 21st century. The feminist movie stars Elizabeth Moss as an abused woman, who is being stalked by someone, who she believes is her recently deceased abusive boyfriend. The film is absolutely brilliantly directed, with some incredible creative jump scares. But, what so wonderful about it is that underneath all the scares is a story full of depth and interesting characters. It’s definitely the second best horror movie of 2020 (we’ll get to number 1 in a sec).

4. Soul

Pixar’s latest went straight to DisneyPlus on Christmas Day last year, and proved that the animation studio can still very much make charming and amazing movies in recent times. The film is quite complex – mainly centred on jazz lover, Joe who dies suddenly and tries to avoid being sent to the “Great Beyond” – but the great thing about it is that you never notice that while you’re watching it. Along with two of Pixar’s recent efforts, Inside Out and Coco, Pixar is turning away from making studio movies and sequels, and making more smart, insightful movies filed to brim with smart ideas and deep messages. Such a wonderful pleasure this movie was.

3. Possessor

This under-seen science fiction body horror is from the mind of Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David, and much like his father’s best works, the film is filled with wonderful gross body horror and an extraordinary level of violence. However, Cronenberg still directed the film with a high level of expertise, craft and class, definitely breaking out of his father’s shadow in the process. It’s one of those films that the more I have thought about it, the more it has really grown on me, and I now think of it as one of the absolute best films of the year.

2. Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi’s World War 2 comedy-drama was one of the real highlights of early 2020. The film centres on a young boy, Jojo Bletzer (played brilliantly by Roman Griffin Davis), whose life is turned upside down by the discovery that his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has hidden a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic. The Oscar winner’s huge contrasting tonal shifts will not be for everyone, but for the people that get it, they really get it. It remains a really poignant and hilarious comedy with a mesmerising performances by Johansson. It is living proof that filmmakers should have creative license to produce whatever they want, even if the subject matter is somewhat controversial.

1. The Lighthouse

Finally we’re reached number one, and at the top spot is another Marmite choice with The Lighthouse. The latest from The Witch director, Roger Eggers is a psychological horror-thriller that centres on two lighthouse keepers (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) who try to keep their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious island. Eggers gives the film a striking visual style – being shot in an almost square 1.19:1 aspect ratio that is filmed in black-and-white. Brilliantly shot, written and performed, The Lighthouse is an absolutely brilliant horror fable that is equal parts surreal, entertaining, visual striking and oftentimes, strangely funny, showing in the process that Eggers has a bright future ahead of him.

The Lighthouse is brilliant, but remember – Parasite is still the best feature film of 2020.

Promising Young Woman Review

Every now and then, there comes a movie which gathers very divisive reactions. Last year there was Joker, a movie that prompted widespread controversy and worries it would promote real-life violence, and a couple of years ago, there was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a movie that huge critical and audience acclaim, yet controversy for it’s handling of racial themes.

And now, in 2021, we have Promising Young Woman.

The psychological thriller film is directed by Emerald Fennell, a writer and actor, most famously known for her recurring role as Camila Shand in the Netflix drama series, The Crown, as well as being the show-runner for the second season of the BBC America breakthrough hit, Killing Eve (writing 6 episodes of that season). With the exception of a short film, this is Fennell’s first foray in the film world, and as a directional debut, it’s pretty damn exceptional.

The centres on the young woman of the title, Cassie Thomas (portrayed by Carey Mulligan), a 29-year-old who works in a coffee shop and still lives with her parents. At night, she leads a double life as a secret vigilante, who goes to bars or clubs and pretends to be intoxicated and waits to see if she will be preyed upon by a seemingly “nice guy”.

So, as you can tell from the premise alone, the film discusses a lot of themes and ideas very prevalent in our society, in particular themes of consent and rape, perfect for the #Metoo inspired era we are in now. However, that is just the beginning, because, as the film unfolds, the film takes us down a path that many won’t expect.

It is soon revealed that Cassie wasn’t always like this – she was once a “Promising Young Woman”, an ambitious, cheerful and determined young woman, who was actually on set to become a doctor before a traumatic event led to dropping out of school. We meet her 10 years after this event, in which she has become a cynical and bitter young woman still stuck in the past. However, this may all change after the arrival of the charming surgeon (and Cassie’s former classmate), Ryan (Bo Burnham), who could possibly break Cassie out of her old funk.

Throughout her constantly witty and inventive script, Fennell is never interested in following the usual beats and tropes of typical, Hollywood movies. In many ways, the film is like Three Billboards in how it constantly subverts our expectations – we begin to constantly change our minds (both in a good or bad way) on the central characters, and we are regularly surprised by all the brilliantly out-of-nowhere plot twists.

One of the most recognisable plot twists that will definitely leave an impact for pretty much every audience member is the shocking ending. The last 15 minutes has already proven to be quite divisive, and many moviegoers will leave the film either extremely disappointed or extremely satisfied. For me, however, the ending was indeed, extremely satisfying and I loved it, but it’s definitely a love-it-or-hate-it moment.

Other than that the twists, the script is also great for it’s bonkers genre experimentation. At first, the film is social thriller, centring on exploring “important” issues in our society, and then it somehow manages to turn into a 90s style romantic comedy, in which our flawed, guarded lead heroine (Cassie) is somehow melted by our dashing, charming male lead (Ryan). But, then, somehow, Fennell is able to turn the last act into a crazy, dramatic finale that feels like it comes out of a rape/revenge film or even a exploitation flick.

But, all this is kept afloat by the brilliant direction by Fennell. Despite the fact that this is her first film, she comes with an established and eye-popping visual aesthetic that feels way beyond her years. Mostly every shot is filled to the brim with bright colours, particularly a lot of pinks and reds, and it has absolutely immaculate production design.

Not only that, but to add to that the soundtrack is absolutely killer. The music is very peculiar – there are remixed, sometimes acoustic versions of pop tunes, including “Toxic”, “It’s Raining Men” and “Angel of the Morning”. There’s even a use of Paris Hilton’s (actually really great) song, “Stars are Blind”, in which Fennell uses completely non-ironically for a romantic, heartfelt montage.

All this makes you feel like you’re watching a “woman’s picture”, a female take (made for women and by women) on the social thriller, a genre previously mainly occupied by male filmmakers, particularly Bong Joon-ho and Jordan Peele. The visual style also purely makes the film very entertaining – Fennell is able to turn the film filled with “important” and “timely” messages into a thrilling and cinematic popcorn flick.

But, in many ways, the film belongs to Carey Mulligan. The 35-year-old actress has always been on the verge of stardom over the past decade, but this could be her turning point. The performance, in which she has to play a variety of emotions (including joyous, depressed, empty, angry and many more), feels reminiscent of Margot Robbie’s barnstorming performance in “I, Tonya” 3 years ago, in which it feels like an actress has finally “arrived” on the scene. If her performance isn’t at least nominated at this year’s Oscars, it will be a real shame.

Other than Mulligan, the film is filled with supporting cameos and performances, all of which are a bit hit-or-miss. Burnham is great, and there are some other solid performances, particularly by Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Laverne Cox and Alfred Molina. Some other performances, however, feel a little bit like missed opportunities, particularly the underwhelming use of Jennifer Coolidge and Molly Shannon.

The film is definitely not for everyone – it’s fiercely cynical and angry tone, as well as the whiplash-inducing tonal changes, will definitely leave people divided. However, if you’re looking for something very different and very eye-catching, you should definitely check out “Promising Young Woman”. Actually, even if you aren’t looking for that, it’s definitely still worth watching, just for the conversation it’s bound to provoke. Nevertheless, I really loved it.

Rating: 9/10

From Normal People to Quiz: Here are my Top 10 TV Shows of 2020

Well, 2020 has been an experience hasn’t it. Unlike films (many of which have been delayed infinitely due to the pandemic), television has been actually striving this year. And, here are 10 of the very best television of the year.

10. Quiz

This ITV miniseries about the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire cheating scandal has kind of flown under the radar this year, but it really shouldn’t have done, because it was really terrific. The 3-part series is filled with great performances, especially by Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen and Fleabag’s Sian Clifford, and has some wonderful, witty writing. And, just like the best biopic/real-life dramas, the series remains riveting, tense and you have no idea what’s going to happen (even though you kind of do know what’s going to happen).

Also, Martin Sheen as Chris Tarrant is pure genius.

9. Sex Education

This Netflix coming-of-age comedy drama was the break-out hit of 2019, and it still remains just as good with it’s sophomore season. Although a bit of the novelty that the first season had has kind of worn off, this season remains just as funny and joyous. The real treasure of this show are wonderful characters and great cast, with particular stand-outs including Aimee Lou Wood as the incessantly chipper Aimee Gibbs, Gillian Anderson as the embarrassing sex therapist mother, Jean and Tanya Reynolds as the school “weird girl”, Lily.

This could be a real long-running hit for Netflix if they manage to keep up the same level of quality for season 3.

8. The Umbrella Academy

Based off the comic book series of the same name (which, quick fact for you – was written by Gerald Way of My Chemical Romance fame), this quirky and idiosyncratic Netflix hit ambitiously blends many genres, including black comedy, time travel adventure, 60s period drama, superhero action and many more. The series may not feel as fresh as it did in it’s first season, but it’s also smoothed out some of the harsh edges from the previous season, getting more of an equal tonal balance and giving more interesting development to some of the more boring characters.

Hopefully, this future cult classic will continue to remain it’s brilliant quality for it’s next season.

7. Normal People

For many of us, this BBC Three/ Hulu miniseries has a lot of memories of early lock-down, and for the first few months of the year, it was definitely the best television out there. The 12-part drama features two break-out performances from relative newcomers, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, and is a haunting depiction of young love, centring on our lead characters’ journey through sixth form to university to post-university life. Even if you are not a romantic at heart, this show is definitely worth checking out for it’s sympathetic writing and heartfelt direction.

However, it is not even the best limited series on the list (that is still to come).

6. I May Destroy You

Michael Coel’s 12-part mini-series was one of the most delightfully weird pieces of media to come out this year. The former Chewing Gun creator/writer adapts her own traumatic experiences in this limited series, centring on a “millennial” writer who struggles to come to terms with the fact that she was raped after her drink was spiked. The best thing about this series, however, is that the series never feels like you’re watching a “important series”, it remains equal parts shocking, heart-breaking and often times, very funny.

Also, the series marks possibly the best way to end a series, with the final part – titled “Ego Death” – being one of the very best TV episodes of the year.

5. Schitt’s Creek

PopTV cult comedy, Schitt’s Creek has been slowly climbing up the ranks over the past 6 years, with each season gathering higher critical acclaim, a bigger fan-base and awards success. And with it’s final season, the series ended on the highest of highs, and broke all kinds of Emmys records (including the most Emmys ever for a single season of a comedy series, and the only time a series has won in all seven major categories).

The series has proven itself to be “the Fleabag” of the year, proving that a small, underdog series can break into the mainstream, and get huge acclaim. And, with it’s final season, Dan Levy has provided us with many hilarious moments and pitch perfect endings for all of our central characters.

4. Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman has had such an odd trajectory as a series. Debuting in 2014 opposite the then-Netflix hits, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, it looked like it was set to be a charming but forgotten about adult animation series. However, over it’s past 7 years, it has somehow managed to rise up the ranks to become one of the best – if not the best – animated TV series of all time.

The concept of the show continues to entertain, blending hilarious satire of the show-business and Hollywood with some wonderfully odd anthropomorphic comedy. And, over time, the show has turned into an especially deep show, giving us some haunting commentary on depression, addiction, self-destructive behaviour and overall, what it means to be human. And, it all comes from a show about an animated talking horse.

Also, this season ended the show brilliantly, with it’s penultimate episode, “The View from Halfway Down” being a particular highlight.

3. Better Call Saul

Now, to be honest, my number one show is pretty much a three-way tie between these following three shows. On any other day, I could rearrange these three shows to be in the very top spot.

What I’ve currently decided on though, is the fifth and penultimate season of the Breaking Bad spin-off, Better Call Saul in third place. Much like it’s predecessor, Better Call Saul has crept up on us, being a slow and methodical character study that just continues to get better and better.

And, I know it’s sounds like a cliche, but this truly was the series at it’s best. In particular, the series excelled in it’s final 3 episodes, with “Bagman” and “Bad Choice Road” being two of best episodes of television of all time. It was at this point that the show really gave us such quality just as good as Breaking Bad and possibly even better.

Also, special mentions should go to the brilliant performances, especially by lead, Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn (as Kim Wexler), and newcomer, Tony Dalton (as Lalo Salamanca). I mean, the season is just worth watching for the showdown between Kim and Lalo alone. All this sets the stage for what will hopefully be an explosive (and tragic) final season of the brilliant series.

2. The Mandalorian

Back in 2015, JJ Abrams completely revitalised the tired Star Wars franchise with it’s seventh movie, The Force Awakens. However, the franchise’s most recent movies (Solo and The Rise of Skywalker) have proven to be colossal disappointments, all of which set the stage for the next big Star Wars project – the live-action series broadcast directly to DisneyPlus, The Mandalorian – to be give a much-needed revitalisation to the franchise again.

And indeed it has.

The first season (broadcast in March earlier this year) was absolutely terrific, but it was the second season (which aired over the past two months) that really sealed the deal. This latest season had absolutely no bad or filler episodes, and climaxed in possibly the show’s best episode (“The Rescue”).

What’s so brilliant about the series is it’s beautiful simplicity – it’s essentially a Sergio Leone-like western set in space, with Pedro Pascal’s The Mandalorian being the show’s very own Man with No Name. And, that leaves space for some brilliant supporting characters (especially Temuera Morrison as Boba Fett; Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon and Gina Carano as Cara Dune) and plenty time to development the Mandalorian’s character and his father-son bond with the show’s breakout character, Baby Yoda (or Grogu).

The first two seasons of The Mandalorian are so damn good that it’s almost been the best TV has to offer. Almost…

1. The Queen’s Gambit

And, now we reach number one. Now, like I said, any other day of the week, The Mandalorian or Better Call Saul could of been in the top spot, however, the eventual winner ended up being The Queen’s Gambit, a small Netflix mini-series that could.

Directed and written by Godless’s Scott Frank (and adapted from classic book of the same name written by Walter Tevis), the series follows a self-destructive young woman, Beth Harmon (played to perfection by Anya Taylor-Joy) on her path to becoming the world’s greatest Chess player.

And, I know what you’re thinking – “A TV show about Chess. Really?”. But that’s one of the real joys of the series, is that it makes you extremely interested in a subject that otherwise could of been really boring. The Chess-playing sequences are executed brilliantly, with perfect direction and editing to go alongside.

And, that’s what is really remarkable about the series – is that, although brilliantly written, a lot of the storytelling in the show is really visual. It’s possibly one of the most perfectly constructed pieces of media to come out in a long time in that everything, from the writing to the cinematography to the production values to the costume design to the acting (especially by a break-out performance by Taylor-Joy) are all absolutely great.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should definitely check out The Queen’s Gambit, because it’s absolutely brilliant and (although, a very close call) it’s my favourite TV show of the year.

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.

Onibaba.jpg (1600×1061)

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.

My 10 Favourite Films of the 21st Century

There have been some amazing films that have come out over the past 20 years, ever since we entered the new millennium, and here are just some of my absolute favourites.

Firstly, here are some honourable mentions: Blade Runner 2049, Get Out, God’s Own Country, Gone Girl, Her, I, Tonya, La La Land, Little Miss Sunshine, Little Women, Memento, Moonlight, Mulholland Drive, Phantom Thread, Searching, Serenity, Shaun of the Dead, Spirited Away, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Train to Busan, Wild Tales & Zodiac

10. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible has always been one of the most underrated film franchises of recent times. Despite a bevy of famous directors (including, Brian de Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams, Brad Bird and Christopher McQuarrie) and famous actors (including the man himself, Tom Cruise) at the helm, the franchise has always been on the verge of widespread success, producing fun and serviceable popcorn action thrillers.

However, with it’s sixth instalment, Fallout, the franchise crosses the threshold from serviceable entertainment into a real sophisticated, classy and visceral piece of cinema. With brilliantly directed action sequences, compelling characters (particularly Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust), thrilling tension, and great performances, Fallout is not just a great Mission: Impossible film, but a great film altogether. It’s definitely the best action film of the 21st century (and sorry, but it’s much better than Mad Max: Fury Road). Hell, it might even be the best action movie ever made.

9. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

This isn’t the last Coen brothers film that will appear on the list (see: number 2), but this is definitely the best film they’ve made in the last 10 years. It’s possibly their most Marmite film in their filmography (some people rank it as one of their favourite films of Coens; some people rank it among their worst), however, I absolutely love it.

It’s depressing, melancholy, sombre, subversive, darkly funny and strange in all the best ways, and I love it’s cinematography, songs, performances (including by a breakout Oscar Isaac) and some glorious cameos (including by the always great Adam Driver). It’s the sort of film that sticks with you long after the credits roll, and stays with you your entire life.

8. A Separation (2011)

Asghar Farhadi’s brilliant fifth feature, A Separation is him at his best and most heart-breaking. It’s most definitely the second best non-English language film of the 21st century (we’ll get to number one soon enough), and one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen.

The film boasts one of the greatest scripts ever written, with brutally frank and straight-talking dialogue, and makes us feel sympathy equally all of our lead characters, despite their bad or morally ambiguous actions. One of the most underestimated films to come recently, A Separation is most definitely worth a look.

7. Knives Out (2019)

Rian Johnson’s epic murder mystery comedy isn’t for everyone, but for the people that get it (like me), they really get it. The film is odd hybrid of an Agatha Christie murder mystery and a witty, suspenseful and darkly funny popcorn thriller. It’s neither a straight-up mystery, nor a spoof movie – it finds itself somewhere in the middle. It’s a strange pastiche of the whodunnit genre that simultaneously embraces and subverts the genre’s conventions.

What’s so brilliant about the film, however, is that you never notice all this while you’re watching it. It’s properly cinematic, really thrilling, entertaining, funny and filled to the brim with great performances and compelling characters. I mean, Ana de Armos is a frigging star through and through. I can’t wait to see the sequel, even it’s just for Daniel Craig’s barmy accent alone.

6. Paddington 2 (2017)

If you’d asked me about 3 years ago, I would probably say Paddington 2 is my favourite film of the 21st century. However, eventually ending up at number 6 is still pretty good.

This sequel to the 2014 adventure comedy centred on the Paddington Bear books by Michael Bond, improves everything about the original in spades. It’s more entertaining, more thrilling, funny and even more heartfelt. By the end, you’ll both be in floods of tears and your heart will be lifted by the level of compassion that Paddington has for the planet and it’s people.

It’s just the film we need for right now, and anyone with a soul and beating heart will surely be incredibly moved by this wonderful, wonderful movie.

5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man have gone through a hell of a lot through the past two decades – we have had three separate actors portraying the Marvel superhero across three distinct franchises (in 7 movies). However, who’d ever thought that the best portrayal of Spider-Man would actually come from an animated movie, with Miles Morales as the lead.

Spider-Verse is really beautifully animated, and filled to the brim with wonderful and hilarious characters. It’s also a film with a real love of comic books, and has a willingness to embrace the more wacky, crazy parts of the medium. It’s possibly the best animated films of the past 20 years, and definitely my favourite superhero movie of all time (and yes, its better than The Dark Knight – there, I said it).

4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman’s 5th feature, is a masterclass in how to tell an tired, unoriginal story in a new and innovative way. Centring on a estranged, bickering couple (Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey), who decide to erase each other from their memories, the film combines a nonlinear narrative and wild genre experimentation to create something wholly original.

It’s the sort of film the explores the concept of romantic love, and the importance of memories and how our memories are what defines us, yet manages to do it in a very mainstream, and accessible (yet very strange) way. It’s also got some glorious performances by Kate Winslet and an out-of-character dramatic Jim Carrey. If you’re looking for something a little unorthodox coming from the 21st century, then definitely check out Eternal Sunshine.

3. The Social Network (2010)

Sometimes a film comes along where the writer and the director are both collectively working at the height of their powers. And The Social Network is one of those movies. In this movie, we see director, David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Gone Girl) and writer, Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Trial of the Chicago 7) coming together to make arguably the greatest biopic movie of all time (and it’s a movie about Facebook).

Not only that, but the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is absolutely fantastic, and the editing is some of the best editing done in the history of cinema (that hacking scene is utterly incredible). What is really miraculous about the film, however, is that Fincher is able to turn a film about Facebook (which could of been so boring) into a rollicking, cinematic, and oddly, fun feature film.

The Social Network does not get half as much attention as it should do – give it another 25 years, and hopefully, it will be seen as the classic that it deserves to be seen as.

2. No Country for Old Men (2007)

The Coen brothers’ 1996 classic, Fargo is definitely my favourite film of theirs, but if I had to pick their most polished, most well-made feature in their filmography, it would definitely be No Country for Old Men. Like a lot of their films – the plot is extremely simple (it’s essentially a cat-and-mouse thriller about the hunt for a suitcase of money), but that doesn’t mean it’s any less extraordinary.

What’s so brilliant about No Country is that it’s a masterclass in “show, don’t tell” storytelling – it gives just the right amount of exploratory dialogue, and treats it’s audience with the upmost of intelligence. It the possibly the absolute pinnacle of visual storytelling, only made more impressive by some beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins (who, if you didn’t know, is the greatest cinematographer in the whole world – and that’s not a opinion, that’s just a fact).

Also, Javier Barden as Anton Chigurh – possibly the best bad guy ever?

1.Parasite (2019)

Now, every film on this list is absolutely brilliant, but Parasite is on an another level. Parasite is a special movie – the sort of movie that comes around once every few decades or maybe even once in a lifetime.

The black comedy-cum-thriller-cum-social satire is the 7th feature by South Korean writer-director, Bong Joon-ho (who formerly crafted the brilliant films, Mother, Snowpiercer and Memories of Murder), and is a real miracle of film. Film students and film critics will be analysing it for decades to come to figure out just how Joon-ho did it. Somehow, Parasite manages to be equal parts funny, tense, suspenseful and dramatic, and manages to work as about 10 different genres all at once.

But what might be the best thing about Parasite (and the reason why it got widespread media coverage, universal critical acclaim, and huge box office success) is just how entertaining the film is. Joon-ho is able to turn a tired social message into something that is really cinematic and gloriously thrilling. Watching Parasite is like watching Alfred Hitchcock at his best – we are seeing Joon-ho at the absolute total command of his craft, and he has proven himself to be one of the greatest film directors of his generation.

Yes, Parasite is the best film of the 21st Century, but Parasite may even be more than that. It may even be the greatest film ever made in the history of cinema.

What I Watched in Lockdown: Month #2 – April

Aw, April. After March was possibly the craziest and oddest month of our collective lives, April was a learning curve for everyone, as we tried to get used to our new surroundings.

Although it originated from truly terrible surroundings, this actually seemed like quite a uniting time as everyone in the whole world was sharing one big similar circumstance. Everyone was stuck in their respective homes – no one could see friends, see family, go to the cinema, go to a restaurant or really do anything. And, actually it was nice to see everyone – no matter what race, gender, age, class or nationality – deal with the same issues for once.

And, it was actually quite a calming time for me. I loved it, and I watched a lot of films. These include:

  • Lots of new films, that I watched on streaming services, instead of at the cinema. Streaming services including the subscription-based ones (including Netflix, Amazon Prime and DisneyPlus, along with Shudder, which I got for a while during lock-down (it wasn’t worth it)), free streaming services (including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, and of course, YouTube) and streaming services were you buy rentals (including Google Play, Amazon or Curzon Home Cinema). The new films I watched on streaming services include Bacurau, Swallow, Love Wedding Repeat, Tigertail, Blow the Man Down and Sea Fever. I also re-watched The Invisible Man and the National Theatre Live taping of the stage play, Fleabag (which was very lovingly put onto streaming for charity). The best of these films was Bacurau (with a big honourable mention for Swallow), and the worst was definitely Love Wedding Repeat.
  • During lock-down, me and my dad started a film club, in which he would show me a film I’ve never seen before, while I would show him a film he’s never seen before. The classics I watched for the first time include the Orson Welles classic, Touch of Evil; the iconic war film, Apocalypse Now; the other iconic John Travolta dance film (that isn’t Grease), Saturday Night Fever; the 60s Paul Newman film, The Hustler; the Stephen King-David Cronenberg adaptation of The Dead Zone; Apocalypse Now documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse; the classic Humphrey Bogart classic, The Maltese Falcon and the 80s Best Picture winner, Platoon.
  • Films I showed my dad that I re-watched include the Coen brothers films, Inside Llewyn Davis (which I love), Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There and A Serious Man. Others include the forgotten gems, Begin Again, Searching and Leave No Trace, and the terrific recent gems, One Cut of the Dead and The Peanut Butter Falcon.
  • Otherwise, I watched Knives Out twice this month. Yes, that means that I’ve seen it six times now. The first time, I watched it with a commentary track from director, Rian Johnson, while the second time I watched it normally.
  • Speaking of Knives Out, I watched a lot of films that Johnson says influenced his work. Before this month, I watched 80s twisty-turny thriller, Deathtrap and the whodunnit parody movie, Murder by Death. In this month, however, I watched some Agatha Christie adaptations, including Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express (the 1970s one) and The Mirror Crack’d, as well as the 70s mystery thrillers, Sleuth and The Last of Sheila. I also watched the 2015 miniseries of Christie’s And Then There Were None, which was great by the way, if you haven’t seen it.
  • Other random films include: Mr. Right, a mediocre Sam Rockwell black comedy; Tigers Are Not Afraid, a terrific and underrated fantasy horror in the vein of Pan’s Labyrinth (which was pretty much the only other film I watched on Shudder), and QT8: The First Eight, a documentary about Quentin Tarantino. I sort of let go of watching Studio Ghibli films in April (don’t worry, I start again in June), however I did watch the underrated Ghibli gem, Whisper of the Heart.
  • I did also re-watch a lot of films with my family during this month. This includes a favourite from my childhood (and one of my mum’s favourites), the Pixar movie, Finding Nemo, and The Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep, which I undoubtedly think it better than the original. I also re-watched the 2016 comedy, The Nice Guys, another go-to comfort movie for me.
  • I also continued to watch The Simpsons during this harsh and difficult time. I carried on watching random episodes, finishing the sixth and fifth seasons. This re-watch really established to me that The Simpsons is so good – the writing on this show is better than most shows on nowadays.
  • Other random TV seasons I’ve seen include: the first season of Ozark; the first season of Pure; the second season of Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema, and the fifth season of Better Call Saul. They were all good, but the fifth season of Better Call Saul was near perfection (bring on season 6).
  • Outside And Then There Were None, I also watched some miniseries, including Tiger King (like everyone else on the planet – remember when that was the biggest thing ever) and Quiz, a dramatisation of the Who Wants to be A Millionaire scandal (which was fantastic, by the way).
  • I also read this month (that’s right, sometimes I read) – I started to read some comics. I read Volumes 7 (consisting of issues 31 to 36) and 8 (Issues 37 to 42) of Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga, one of my favourite comic book series. I also read the second volume (Issues 6 to 10) of the underrated series, Skyward.

Bring on the Month 3, where caution: I was A LOT of films.

What I Watched in Lock-down: Month #1 – March

Well, 2020 has been… an experience, hasn’t it.

Ever since March, life has changed for pretty much everyone in the world. Coronavirus – or Covid-19 – has all of a sudden become the most famous celebrity in the whole world, and everyone abruptly discovered a new vocabulary, including “social distancing”, “pandemic”, “isolation” and “quarantine”.

It became the biggest thing in the world around March, especially half way through the month. It is still going on now, but it’s definitely dialling down, and will probably never again reach the craziness of mid-to-late March. The whole pandemic is like a TV show that started off as biggest show on television, and is now petering out (but still has a devoted fan-base) – it’s like Twin Peaks, Glee or Heroes. And, like these shows, the pandemic will hopefully be cancelled soon, only getting a revival in the press when it is properly finished.

And, like everyone, we were put in lock-down in late March, not being able to go outside, go to cinema, go to a restaurant, see friends, see family, or just really do anything that doesn’t involve doing it in the house. So, therefore, like everyone, I got a load of brand new projects, and this included watching a lot of films.

Firstly, during the first half on the month (the 1st to the 16th), where the world had not really changed that much, it was pretty much business as normal. This includes:

  • A load of new films, that I watched at the cinema (remember when we could do that). This includes – Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Invisible Man, Downhill, Onward (and the short film that proceeded it, Playdate with Destiny), The Photograph and Military Wives. Yes, that’s right, Military Wives was the last film I watched at the cinema. I mean, Military Wives was good and everything, but if I die of Covid-19 and that is the last film I see at the cinema, I’m gonna be pissed. Overall the best of these films are either The Invisible Man or Portrait of a Lady on Fire (both so great – Portrait a little overrated, and Invisible Man was better than many thought), while the worst was definitely Downhill.
  • Also, I watched Taylor Tomlison’s new stand-up special, Quarter Life Crisis, which was very good. It was broadcast on Netflix – a eerie foreshadowing that we would get a load of new films on streaming services.
  • I continued to watch Studio Ghibli movies – the anime movies that were produced by Hayao Miyazaki’s film studio – ever since were brought to Netflix in February. In February, I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso, and re-watched My Neighbour Totoro, while in March, I watched The Secret World of Arrietty and The Cat Returns and re-watched Spirited Away.
  • I also continued to watch a lot of Mark Ruffalo films, which I started to watch after seeing Dark Waters in late Feb. This includes Foxcatcher and Just Like Heaven, and re-watching Zodiac and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the latter two are two of the best films of the 21st century.
  • Other random first-time watches include: the 2016 horror film (that the podcast, The Evolution of Horror recommended me), The Autopsy of Jane Doe; the underrated Best Picture nominee, In the Bedroom; the overrated Noah Baumbach movie, Mistress America, and the solid Sidney Lumet thriller, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. A re-watch includes Ready or Not, a film from last year, that I really liked.
  • In terms of TV, I watched the fifth season of Inside No. 9. This was good, but was not as good as the utterly brilliant fourth season.

Now, we get to the time were the world went to shit. This is a new world, where new releases were either delayed, or taken straight to streaming. With the world in extreme turmoil, I started to watch favourite films and childhood favourites. Also, feeling like I won’t have this opportunity again, I decided to watch a bunch of old classics I’ve never seen before. Watches includes:

  • I re-watched some of my favourite films, including Fargo (believe or not, a go-to comfort film for me), Toy Story 2 (which I’m loving more and more on each re-watch) and last year’s Knives Out (which I watched for the fourth time).
  • I also watched some of my favourite films from childhood, including Ocean’s Eleven and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Both were good, but not as great as I remembered, especially Ocean’s Eleven.
  • Also, when I got DisneyPlus in late March, I watched a lot of their content, including their two short films, Lamp Life and Forky Asks a Question: What is Money?.
  • I started watching some classic films, starting with 1949 classic, The Third Man.
  • As we had to get used to our new surroundings, I started to watch new films on streaming services instead of at the cinema. This includes The Platform and Vivarium – both solid, if slightly underwhelming satirical movies.
  • Other random watches include: The Invisible Man director, Leigh Wannell’s other film, Upgrade; the 1970s musical thriller (that Edgar Wright recommended me), Phantom of the Paraside, and re-watched the 2011 Steven Soderbergh thriller, Contagion, which for some reason, I found slightly relatable.
  • Also, as a go-comfort move, I re-watched my favourite show from my childhood – a little show you may of heard of called The Simpsons. I re-watched a lot of random episodes and finished the eighth season. This brought me back to my childhood at this really heard time, and really established for me that it is indeed one of the best TV shows of all time.
  • Otherwise, I also finished the second season of Lost in Space and the twelfth season of Doctor Who. Both were solidly good seasons.

Now, the next two months were peak lockdown, so prepare for a lot of movies in the next few months.

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

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

How Buffy’s Hush became a iconic episode of television

Buffy the Vampire Slayer will always be remembered as one of the most iconic cult television series of all time. The series debuted just before the Golden Age of Television began in the turn of the 21st century, and influenced an endless number of other TV shows. Today, we never would of had the 2000s reboot of Doctor Who, Spaced, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and numerous others without the magic of the fantasy horror television series.

The series was Joss Whedon’s brainchild, with the central premise of subverting and skewering horror cliches. Mainly focusing on Buffy Summers, a teenage girl, who also happens to be a vampire slayer by night, and her various attempts to save her town, Sunnydale from monsters and the like. Joining her are her friends, Xander and Willow, Xander’s girlfriend, Anya and her mentor/ father figure, Giles. The series began in 1997, and ran for three brilliant, well-crafted and popular seasons. However, it was the fourth season’s episode, “Hush” (episode 10) that took Buffy to another level.

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At this point in the story, all of the characters were dealing with more grown-up and adult challenges, detailing the characters’ journey in college and beyond. Buffy has a flirtation with a college tutor, Riley, who unknown to her, is actually a member of The Initiative, a secret government-orientated team that also protects Sunnydale from demons. Meanwhile, Willow and her boyfriend, Oz have just broken up, and Anya and Xander have started a relationship, however, Xander struggles with Anya’s blunt honesty. In this episode, some mysterious demons, called The Gentlemen, come roaming into town. They steal the voices of everyone in town (including our main characters) in order to achieve their ultimate goal – to collect 7 human hearts.

Hush was Whedon’s attempt at doing something very different with Buffy. The show, much like all of Whedon’s work, had been largely praised for it’s particular style of dialogue – called “Buffy-speak” – containing a variety of witty one-liners, pop culture references and fast-paced banter. In Hush, however, Whedon completely removed that element (at this point, probably the most iconic moment from the show) in an extremely daring and risky experiment.

At this point, Whedon most probably felt very fulfilled as a screenwriter, writing some of the best dialogue on television. However, he still wasn’t fulfilled as a director. The terrific maverick originated from a family of writers and screenwriters, and he originally started off his career as a script doctor for a variety of television projects and movies. There was a worry for him, however, in the fourth season of his television series, that he was becoming, what he called a “hack”, and not pushing himself him creatively.

And, with this new experiment, he was able to focus solely on visual storytelling. He was able to focus on directing, cinematography, sound and music. From the time that voices are stolen, the camerawork is very different, and a lot more ambitious than any other episode of the show. There is a brilliant moment where the camera goes from a wide shot to a close up in one long pan, and this is one of the many innovative camera shots from the episode.

And, then, The Gentlemen arrive. In possibly the most iconic scene from the episode, we are introduced to The Gentlemen, who levitate through town, hunting for their first victim. Again, there, the camera uses these a lot of gliding panning shots, and point of view shots that makes for really quite terrifying viewing. Also, the score by Christophe Beck is particularly scary and tense, and the prosthetic design of The Gentlemen are very grotesque.

Up until this point, Buffy hadn’t really delivered on the horror part of the series. Although, it was often called an horror series, it took more of a subversive, postmodern and often, very funny take on the genre, but up until Hush, it hadn’t been that properly scary. But this scene, felt like something from a proper, old-fashioned horror film, like something out of Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

But, what makes Hush so special is that, despite it’s experimental nature, it still feels quintessentially Buffy. The whole concept of The Gentlemen as villains are very much in keeping with the concept of Buffy, in how they are masculine figures who are trying to fighting against our female protagonist. In fact, the whole concept of these figures taking everyone’s voices without their permission almost feels like an analogy for sexual assault – The Gentlemen takes everyone’s most important weapon (their literal voice), and it heavily affects them.

Also, this experimental plot is still very important to the overall plot. Here, the idea of people’s voices taking is all an commentary on the importance on communication. Throughout the episode, Buffy and Riley are struggling to communicate properly because of they just keep talking (but with no real meaning behind it) when they are around each other. However, when talking is taken away (involuntary), they are forced to face their feelings for each other, and finally kiss. This is also shown through the supporting characters. In the episode, Xander is struggling to communicate with Anya, and tell her exactly how he feels about her. However, when all the voices are taken away, he is finally able to show her his love for her when he “saves” her from Spike, and kisses her.

At the same time, Hush is an absolutely brilliant episode of the show – it is witty, funny, experimental, strange and properly scary, but for many reasons, it is also an absolutely iconic episode of television. One of the reasons for this is it’s experimental nature. Buffy and The X Files, both airing at the same time, were famous for does something weird and against the usual norm.

In later seasons, Buffy would carry this on – producing the musical comedy, “Once More with Feeling” (Season 6, Episode 7) and the hard-hitting existential drama, “The Body” (Season 5, Episode 16), but Hush was the one that set the ball rolling. It has now become a little old hat for a TV Show to do something experimental, and against the norm – one of the most recent successful examples includes the “ronny/lily” episode of Barry – and this wouldn’t of happened if it wasn’t for Buffy’s Hush.

But also, the reason why this episode has become so iconic is because it feels properly cinematic. Before the Golden Age of Television began, “television” almost felt like a dirty word – it went to describing something that felt a little bit insubstantial or unsophisticated. But, here, with Hush, Whedon created an episode of television that was properly cinematic. It’s concept felt like something for an old silent horror movie, while it’s cinematography and camera work felt like something for a proper movie, and something for the screen.

This set the ball rolling for many TV shows to centre around having brilliant, ground-breaking cinematography and ambitious plotting. It influence is as far-reaching as the 2010s, where we wouldn’t of had TV shows like Hannibal, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Fargo and numerous others, without it.

Overall, there are many reasons why Buffy is such an iconic show, for example, without it, we wouldn’t of had a musical trend on television, a witty and popular culture-savvy way of dialogue, an re-emphasis on vampire in horror fiction, and genre fiction channelling big, weighty themes, including feminism and death. However, Hush is properly the most iconic and legendary episode of the show, ever. Like series writer, Jane Espensen has stated about the episode – it “redefined what an episode of television could do”, and television owes a hell of a lot to this one episode.

Dead to Me Season 2 Review

One of the most surprisingly successful Netflix originals from last year was Dead to Me, a pitch-black comedy drama, created by Liz Feldman. Now over a year after it’s debut, the hit show returns for a second season. The show features the lead starring duo of Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, along with a supporting cast including James Marsden, Max Jenkins and Suzy Nakamura.

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The general premise of the first season was that it centred on Jen Harding (Applegate), a suburban “soccer mom”, who is struggling to deal with the sudden death of her husband, Ted, after he is killed in a hit and run by an unknown driver. She is now attempting to look after her two sons, the 17-year-old, Charlie (Sam McCarthy) and 11-year-old, Henry (Luke Roessler) without their father, while attempting to track down his killer.

Soon, Judy Hale (Cardellini) enters the picture, after she and Jen meet at a grief counselling session (Judy is grief for her miscarried baby). Despite their contrasting personalities and lifestyles, the two form a close bond, however, it is complicated over the fact that Judy and Steve are in fact responsible for Ted’s death. When Jen finds out, she angrily banishes Judy from her life. However, that season ends on a cliffhanger, in which Judy discovers that, presumably after a shuffle, Jen has killed Steve.

This time, season 2 mainly centres on Jen and Judy attempting to cover up Steve’s death. While Judy struggles with guilt over losing Steve, Jen covers up a deep and dark secret from the night of his death. This is pretty a repeat of the premise from the first season, but this time with the roles reversed – this time, Jen is the one who hiding a dark secret from Judy, and one that could wreck their friendship. This role reversal premise is a simple one, but an effective one, and works really well for this mostly successful second season.

The real draw of this show has been the relationship between the two leads and the lead performances of Applegate and Cardellini. Both of them are great character actors, having appeared in a number of roles, both big and small in a variety of projects, both in film and television. Applegate has a comedic force in many films and TV shows, most famously appearing the Anchorman films, but also in Bad Moms, Married… with Children and Samantha Who?. While, Cardellini has been a figure in the industry for the past 20 years, first appearing as the lead in the cult classic, Freaks and Geeks, and then going on to appear in many TV shows, including Mad Men, ER, and Bloodline, as well as have supporting turns in some big films, including Green Book, the Scooby-doo films and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Both parts are played to perfection by both actresses, and they are very good at playing their respective stereotypes – Jen as the brutish, tough one, and Judy as the more sweet, caring and down-to-earth one. The show’s also a great vehicle for both actresses to show their range, as Applegate (an often comedic actress) gets to play a more meaty, dramatic role, while Cardellini (an mainly dramatic actress) gets a chance to play with both comedy and drama. Also, this season, it does genuinely feel like the two are very equal in their development and screen-time. Last season, it felt more of Applegate’s show (she was the only one to get nominated for an Emmy and Golden Globe), but this time, it feels like she and Cardellini are very much sharing the stage, which is probably down to this new twist of how they have both now lost someone in their lives.

The relationship between the two of them is also really quite fascinating, and one of the most rich and complexly written on television. The two simultaneously need each other, and are bad for each other all at once. They have negative impacts on each lives, including how both have lost someone they love due to the other, and how they wouldn’t be in many of their predicaments (including trouble with the police) if it wasn’t for their friendship. However, at the same, they make each other better – through their friendship, Judy becomes more tough and willing to love herself, and not put up with the emotional abuse from her fiance and mother, while, Jen becomes a nicer and more caring figure, wanting to be a better mother figure to her children. This all creates a tension between the pair that is simultaneously caring and loving, but also, stand-offish and tense all at once, and this makes for fascinating viewing.

The pair are also very interesting for their contrasting personalities and lifestyles, and they make a very interesting odd couple-type pairing. Also, the different ways the two cope with grief are also very interesting – Jen, on one hand, stays heavily guarded, and copes with anger and violence, while, Judy, gets very emotional, and looks towards a more spiritual side of life. Feldman has stated that she wrote the series as a commentary on grief, and was influenced by how, she, herself has handled with grief through dark humour and laughter in her life. And, through Jen and Judy, Feldman explores how deep, dark, but also unexpected and weird grief can be.

Another great asset to the series is the show’s writing. The writing does very much hinge on campy and ridiculous, and does feel very influenced by soap operas, or soap opera-like shows, like Desperate Housewives and Big Little Lies. It feels like every episode there is a fresh and newfangled twist, that are always very thrilling and exciting, even if sometimes, it can verge on ridiculous.

It does feels that Feldman and her writing team have smoothed some of the edges of the first season. The first season felt a little rough, and sometimes it felt like it was going to collapse in on itself at any moment, and be a victim of it’s large amount of twists and ridiculousness. This season, due to focusing more on the emotional depth of Judy and Jen’s relationship, as well as the great performances by Cardellini and Applegate, feels a lot smoother and well-rounded than the first season.

Despite this, however, sometimes, towards the end, the writing verges on desperate. There is a large amount of cliffhangers in the last episode that feel a little desperate to cling onto the momentum that they have managed to hold for two seasons. I do wonder with the sheer number of twists, and crazy plotting whether they will be able to sustain this show for much longer. A third season would be welcome, but they should possibly end it there, or at most in the fourth season.

This season also has a lot of new subplots that are very welcome. In this season, we see the return of Marsden, but this time as Steve’s twin, Ben (I told you about the soap opera writing), who starts a relationship with Jen. Another welcome addition is Natalie Morales as Michelle, someone’s whose mother is admitted to the nursing home where Judy works. She then begins a relationship with Judy in a very sweet and interesting subplot.

Overall, this season was a really pleasant continuation of the first season. Through Applegate and Cardellini’s brilliant performances, and the show’s bizarre yet unexpected writing, Netflix has delivered with another great original series. Bring on season 3, which will hopefully be out by next year.

Rating: 8.5/10

Horror Tuesday: Audition (1999) Review

For this week’s Horror Tuesday, I decided to review the 1999 horror film, Audition. The film, directed by Takashi Miike, is often counted as one of the best J-horror films of all time. Despite it’s fairly modern release (only 21 years old), the film has become one of the most iconic horror films ever made, becoming an influence on various film-makers, like Eli Roth and the Soska sisters.

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The film follows widower, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), whose son suggests that he should find a new wife. Aoyama agrees, and with help of a friend, begins a series of auditions to find a new suitor. After interviewing several women, Aoyama becomes interested in Asami (Eihi Shiina), and the two begin to date. However, as film unravels, it is revealed that Asami is very much not as she seems.

In fact, calling this film a horror film is a little bit of a spoiler about the film, as it does not start of life as a horror film. At first, the film almost feels like a romantic comedy, or romantic drama, and doesn’t even have a hint of horror in it. It almost feels like a remake, or reboot of Sleepless in Seattle in which our lead character is a widower who is looking for new love.

And, what is so brilliant about the film, is that slowly, over-time, the film changes. Around the time that Asami is introduced, the film gains a new tone, and one that is sinister and irksome. This suspense builds and builds, and only gets more and more scary.

This change is a slow one, but one scene where the film really starts to show it’s hand is in the infamous “bag scene”. This sequence comes in about half way through the film, and begins the real horror of the film. This occurs when Aoyama goes to ring Asami to check up on her, and here, she is very different to her previous demeanour. Here, she is sitting on the floor, in a white shirt and staring at the floor, waiting for the phone to ring. This one shot completely contrasted everything we’ve seen before, and is a huge shock for the audience.

And then, suddenly, after Asami and Aoyama end their phone call, the bag still positioned in the background, moves around all of a sudden, revealing there is a person inside. This makes us simultaneously understand that Asami is a crazed maniac, but also makes us wonder what exactly is going on with her. Also, from the brilliant direction and sound in this scene, it is a perfect example of a beautifully crafted and executed jump scare, and should be looked at by every young film-maker wanting to work in the horror genre.

After this, the film truly turns into a horror film, all of which leads up the horrific ending. Speaking of the ending, this film is a fantastic example of a film, of which the whole point is the build up to the last 15 minutes. This is not done that much in horror films – possibly because if takes a lot of confidence to create a film that is slow for a lot of it’s run-time, but has an explosive ending. There are a few fantastic horror films that have done this in the past, including A Quiet Place (2018), Halloween (1978), The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and Audition could rank up there with all of these classics.

This ending, which I won’t spoil, is utterly horrific, disgusting and disturbing, and possibly one of the grossest sequences I’ve seen committed to film. This is the sequence where you could argue that the film goes to into the extreme gore genre of film, and you can tell the film’s influence on Roth and the Soska sisters. However, what this film gets right, where many other films have failed, is all in the build-up. Miike understands that if gore is going to have any effect on the audience, then it must be done sparsely. Otherwise, the film’s gore will not have any meaning, or effect on the audience, and they will just be fatigued by the film. Therefore, in Audition, when the gore begins, we are completely disgusted and horrified at what we are seeing.

What also makes the films so worthwhile is the characters and performances. Asami is an utterly iconic female character in horror cinema (as is her ending costume of the leather apron with leather gloves), and Eihi Shiina plays her to perfection. What’s really interesting about her is that she is filled with contractions – she is shy, timid, pretty, and sweet but also, scary, terrifying and dangerous. Also, a great trick that Miike pulls when he shoots Asami is that at the beginning, he never shoots her in a close up and always in a long shot. This brilliantly gives the impression that even the camera and the film-maker are utterly terrified of her, and rightfully so. Aoyama is also such a real foil to Asami. He makes a truly sympathetic leading character, and we feel bad for him and how he lost his wife, so when horrible things start to happen to him, the audience really feel it.

In conclusion, Audition is not for everyone (especially those who are not fans of extreme gore), but for those looking for a really well-crafted horror film, then this is definitely one to watch. It’s the type of film that should be watched in film school for filmmakers wanting to work in horror genre, as it expertly crafted and brilliantly made. And, to boot, it is absolutely fricking terrifying.

Rating: 9/10

8 Things Every Filmmaker can learn from Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.

Everything you have heard about Parasite is true! The film was the latest from legendary South Korean filmmaker, Bong Joon-ho, and took the world by storm earlier this year. Amongst much critical and audience acclaim and box office success, the film made history by becoming the first foreign language film to win Best Picture, and also won 3 other Oscars, including Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. The film has all the markings of a modern classic all over it, and is a real masterpiece of cinema. Here, I will take you through 8 things that every filmmaker can learn from the film.

(The following has big spoilers about the film. So, if you haven’t seen it, watch it immediately)

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Make sure that if you do a twist halfway through, that before and after the twist are both interesting

Much has written about the fact that Parasite is a film of two halves. In fact the film is almost two separate, completely different films in one. Joon-ho has stated that he started off the script as a film all about a family, that all con and cheat their way into getting jobs into a luxurious, upper class house. However, it wasn’t until later in which Joon-ho came up with the second half, which almost feels like it comes from a different film. Normally, among critic’s circles, this is often used a criticism for certain films (“the end didn’t make sense, and felt like it was from a completely different film”), but with Parasite, the result is most definitely, not uneven.

One of the reasons for this is because both halves (or both of these two separate films) are both, in a standalone way, great films. Certain films that try to be two different films blended into one can fail for one of two reasons. Firstly, their opening can be too slow, boring or just plainly, too ordinary, because the filmmakers know that they have a big twist coming up that will grab the audience’s attention. The result of this is that the film will most likely lose it’s tension as the audience will have guessed that there is a twist coming up (even if they haven’t guessed the twist itself).

Secondly, the second half will not be as good. We have all watched numerous films, where we all say “it started of great, but lost it’s way towards the end”. However, what Parasite does so brilliantly is that it’s, well, brilliant, for all of it’s run-time. The second half is just as good – maybe even better – than the first, and tops everything that we’re just seen. The biggest compliment about Parasite is that it ranks up there with Hitchcock’s 1960 classic, Psycho for both being films that are completely successful in pulling this feat off, where numerous films have failed.

But you can still have your big moment where you reveal the twist

Parasite is not the first film to pull off this feat, in fact, there are many films that turns into a completely different film halfway through. If you look at the films of Jordan Peele and Edgar Wright, like Get Out (2017) or Hot Fuzz (2007), both of these films are genre-blending rides that starts off life in one genre, and by the end, feels like you are watching a complete different film. However, with both of these films, it is gradual change that happens slowly over the course of the run-time. And that is also the truth with Parasite. However, what is so revolutionary about Parasite is that, while doing this, it still has the big “Oh My God” moment, where we Joon-ho makes us realise that the film is changing in front of our eyes.

The moment in question comes when Moon-gwang arrives at the Park house, and descends into the secret basement under the house. Here, it is revealed that she has been hiding her husband there for 4 years, which leads into the second half of the film. In a brilliant panning shot as the camera goes through the dirty and grubby walls of the basement (in contrast to the posh and beautiful ways of actual house), Joon-ho is directly telling us that we are going to embark on a different film, and one that is a lot darker and stranger.

How to deal with Exposition

Parasite is a masterpiece of many things, but one thing, that it is particularly a masterclass in, is screenwriting. One of it’s real feats of it’s script is how it deals with exposition. Joon-ho and his writing partner, Han Jin-won deal are really great at being quite flippant with exposition, and not labouring over it, and just trusting that the audience will understand and take in this information.

Think about the famous “Jessica. Only Child. Chicago. Illinois.” song that Ki-woo (“Kevin”) and Ki-jung (“Jessica”) sing to each other, just before Jessica goes for an interview in the Park household. The song they’ve used is an mnemonic device, that allows them to remember a lot of information in memorable way. This is a condensed way telling the audience that the two of them have been arranging a backstory for Ki-jung, and have been doing it for a while.

Not does the script deal with exposition well, but it makes it straight-up entertaining. Much has been discussed about the already iconic peach scene, and this is a perfect capsule of this. The scene is a jab-packed montage, that is chock full of information that moves the plot along. Not only does this montage get through a lot of information quickly and efficiently, but does it in a punchy, pacey, fun, and most importantly, entertaining way.

Always give a reason to like every character

Another wonderful part about Parasite’s script is that EVERY lead character is somewhat unlikable and likable all at once. They are all simultaneously hard to root for and easy to root for at the same time. If you think about it, there are no real villains in the film – every character is simultaneously a hero and a villain.

The central family – Ki-taek, Chung-sook, Ki-woo, Ki-jung – are people who we all root for at first. They are down on their luck, they are all unemployed, and all they really have are each other. But, what is very sympathetic about them is that they do actually deserve more – they are all very smart, crafty and intelligent, and in Ki-jung’s case, supremely talented. Even, when they gets their jobs in morally dubious ways (like lying about their job experience, and getting two people fired), we still align ourselves with them, not because they are getting jobs they want, but getting jobs that they deserve.

Not only this, but all the secondary characters apply to this. The rich Park family, Dong-ik and Yeon-gyo do nothing actually wrong during the film – unlike, the Kims, they don’t con or lie their way into getting things – but they are still very privileged and entitled. Moon-gwang and Geun-sae are also complex – yes, Moon-gwang uses her bosses’s house to hide her husband, but his life was also in danger from threatening gangsters.

The reason why Parasite is so good is because all the characters are so complex, rich and beautifully drawn. We are given a reason to like and dislike about every character, and this just makes Parasite all the more richer, deeper cinematic experience.

But, still remember, to keep your storytelling visual

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For all of the smart writing, and twists and turns that the movie offers us, what’s wonderful about Parasite is that it’s still a very visual movie. The film may be a marvel of screenwriting, but it is also a marvel of direction and cinematography. There are so much memorable and vivid images that stick out to the viewer long after the film has ended.

Think about the shot of Ki-jung holding a peach and blowing on it; or the long, panning shot of Chung-sook discovering the secret basement; or the shot of Geun-sae looking up the stairs, and scaring Da-song, or the slow-motion shots in the peach montage. With a mixture of the direction by Joon-ho and cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo, Parasite tells a lot of it’s story in a very visually striking way.

Writer-director, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) once said that if you want to watch some of your favourite movies in the right way, then you should watch them with the sound off, and then you will understand visual story-telling. This is something that could definitely be said of Parasite, and this could ultimately be the reason why the film has received such broad, international appeal.

Don’t be afraid to give your audience a break now and then.

For the majority of it’s run-time, Parasite is so weird, strange, and brilliant, that’s it’s almost hard to take. From about the peach scene to the aftermath of the twist, the film almost plays out like an assault – so much happens, the plot is so complicated and the film is trying to do so much, that it could be quite hard for the viewer to take everything in. But, then Bong Joon-ho takes a break.

If someone was going to ask me when exactly I realised how brilliant Parasite was, I would say the flood scene. This scene takes place after the Kims have escapes the Park household, and they discover that their home, and all of the neighbourhood surrounding it, are destroyed by a devastating flood. This sequence is of a different pace of the rest of the film – it is quite slow, melancholic and very emotional.

In this sequence, that is still essential and necessary to the overall plot, it gives the audience a break, and ultimately a chance for them to take it all in. Joon-ho does this throughout the rest of the film – at the beginning, it starts off as quite slow, and quietly builds the tension, and at the end, after the big climax of the movie, the film gives us a quiet epilogue that cools down the audience after a really tense climax.

This is an effect that shows us that Joon-ho has really got his finger on the pulse of what his audience must be feeling, and this is a very important thing for every filmmaker to remember when making a film.

Have ambition

With Parasite, Bong Joon-ho has attempted to do so much with one movie. The film is attempting to do so many genres, from drama, comedy, thriller, black comedy, horror, crime drama, heist film, ghost story, social satire, family drama, and so many more. The film is also about so many things – all at once it is a story of the upstairs/downstairs, poor/rich divide; young people trying to make a life for themselves; a father feeling like he is not providing enough for his family; a son dealing with trauma, and the effect it has on his family, amongst so much more.

Yes, Joon-ho has always been an ambitious filmmaker. His last film before Parasite, Okja was a satire about animal cruelty and corporate greed that was oddly funny, experimental and very strange. Before that, he was often trying to do one genre, and skewer and subvert it slightly, like the monster movie (The Host), the police procedural (Memories of Murder) and the science fiction action movie (Snowpiercer).

Something that is often said by film critics, is that they would prefer for a film to aim for the stars and fail, than a film being mediocre in it’s ambition and execution. And, this is exactly the case with Joon-ho’s films – sometimes the results are uneven (like Okja), and sometimes, the results are utterly heavenly (like Parasite), but we’re always got to admire his huge balls and ambition.

But, remember – you can achieve so much with so little

Think about all the things that Parasite has achieved – it became the highest-grossing South Korean film of all time; it has received universal acclaim from film critics, including an almost-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes; it became the highest-rated film on the film reviewing social media site, Letterboxd; it won the most awards in this year’s Oscar ceremony, and became the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture Oscar.

And, really when you think about it – it has pretty much come from nothing. The film cost the equivalent of 11 million to make (in comparison to Joon-ho’s last film, Okja, which had a whooping budget of 50 million), and it’s not really that much of an extravagant production. In fact for the most part, the film almost plays out like stage play – it has 8 main characters (along with 4 other named characters), and is pretty much just set in 2 locations.

It’s also just a random foreign language film from a random country (South Korea), and then the film, went on to do so well critically and commercially. This film, along with another one of my favourite films from last year, Knives Out, is a living example that all you need to make your film a success, is for it to be of absolute brilliant quality. It should also be a shining example of how, any filmmaker, from any country and working in any genre, can achieve so much if they are really talented.

The film should be taught in film school, as it is an achievement in everything – film-making, screenwriting, production design, cinematography, acting, etc. It is a film that should be looked at for inspiration for any aspiring filmmaker, or any screenwriter, or any-one wanting to work in film industry or, hell, any working in a creative field in general.

Why it’s a good thing that the future of Star Wars is television

If you haven’t heard, The Mandalorian ended it’s first season last week (if time still has any meaning to you anymore). And, with the series proving a huge success, receiving critical acclaim and big ratings, the series feels like a hugely successful revival to franchise. Now, with the franchise announcing a load of new TV shows in production, it seems like the future of Star Wars is television. And I’m here to tell you why that’s a good thing.

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From around 2014/2015, LucasFilm has been trying really hard to revive Star Wars as a franchise. It had been 9 years since the last Star Wars film, where the prequel trilogy ended with Revenge of the Sith. And, although, the prequel trilogy most definitely has it’s fans, the films are often cited as huge disappointments. So when fans found out a new trilogy would be happening, they were apprehensive. However, with the return of original trilogy actors (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and co.) and a load of talent behind the camera (JJ Abrams as director, Kathleen Kennedy as producer and Lawrence Kasdan as writer), it seemed like fans might of started to come around to the prospect of a new trilogy.

And then, The Force Awakens happened. It was one of those movies that gained a huge amount of hype and buzz, not seen like by any film before – except maybe, well, The Phantom Menace. And, for the most part, The Force Awakens was a huge success – critics and fans were all very positive and called it the best Star Wars film in 35 years (since The Empire Strikes Back). After a lot of uncertainty about this franchise, it seems like finally the franchise was back in safe, reliant hands.

This new-found success pretty much continued for the next year. Star Wars released the spin-off, Rogue One, taking place in the same universe, but still completely unconnected to the current trilogy. And, although the film is not without it’s naysayers, the film was also pretty much a big success with critics and audiences. This soon gave LucasFilm and Kennedy the confidence to do a variety of Anthology films, a prospect that could continue long beyond this trilogy ends. Everything was looking rosey for Star Wars, and every-one couldn’t wait to see where the franchise went.

But, then, The Last Jedi happened. Now, before you jump down my throat, I, myself, am a huge fan of the film, but saying that it was hugely divisive amongst fans would be an understatement. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, someone who has made a name for himself by subverting and playing with genre and form, the film did not come across a normal, paint-by-numbers Star Wars film, but rather a film that subverted Star Wars tropes, and by extension, space opera tropes in general.

Fans were very divisive about this, questioning what the real point of this was, and complaining about Johnson effectively abandoning a lot of plot points that Abrams and co set up in Force Awakens, including Rey’s heritage and the significance of Snoke’s character. The film was an experiment, and as much as I am a big fan of the film, it was a big diversion from the story they were telling in Force Awakens. But what did the studio expect from Johnson? He was obviously not going to do the thing that we expected. And not only that, the studio let him. If this was the MCU (the Marvel Cinematic Universe), they would of made sure that a filmmaker feels like he or she has the freedom they deserve, whilst telling an story related to the overall story.

In one movie, it looked like the franchise was in not so safe hands (and just to clarify, I mean the studio and Kennedy as producer, not Johnson). Not only that, but there many things going around the franchise that caused behind-the-scene trouble – including Carrie Fisher’s untimely death and the departures of many directors from numerous different projects, including Josh Trank (from an untitled spin-off), Colin Trevorrow (from Episode 9) and Chris Lord and Phil Miller (from the forthcoming spin-off, Solo).

This only got worse with the release of Solo. The film had a odd production, in which half of it was filmed by Lord and Miller, and the rest of it was finished by Ron Howard. The end result was fine, but just fine, and lacking in any of the same magic of the previous 3 movies. And, not to mention, because with the film’s lukewarm reviews, behind the scenes trouble, and short time between releases (only 5 months), the film was not a success, and the only film from the franchise to become a box office failure.

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This was also very true of The Rise of Skywalker. Now with Fisher gone (who was apparently meant to have a big role in the film), and with Trevarrow now left and Abrams stepping back in, the film underwent a lot of changes and a script re-write. Again, like Solo, the film itself was fine, but just fine. And it felt disappointing that this was the fate that befell the conclusion of a trilogy that showed so much promise with it’s first two movies.

However, since then, the franchise has truly bounced back with the release of The Mandalorian, a TV series that was broadcast on DisneyPlus. Scoring high on both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, the series has been received very well by fans and critics. It has also scored huge ratings, and has been cited as one of the reasons for DisneyPlus’s huge success.

One of the reasons for this could be because, television is just the right home for Star Wars. One of the great things about television on the whole as a medium is that you can experiment. Just look at various episodes of your favourite shows (say for example: Buffy or The X Files), and the wonderful thing about them is that now and then, they can go against the norm and do something different than the normal narrative.

And that’s just what Star Wars needs. Johnson is a filmmaker who makes strange, experimental movies, and there is a case that his style of film-making didn’t fit in with a big Star Wars trilogy. It possibly would of been better if he had been given a episode of The Mandalorian or any episode of any of the upcoming Star Wars TV shows to write-direct, and this wouldn’t of interrupted the story that the trilogy was telling.

There is also a big possibility that the prospect of doing a trilogy of big, epic movies is a slightly outdated concept. The concept of it back in 2014 was very exciting, as it gave us memories of the trilogies of 70s-80s (with the original trilogy) and 00s (with the prequel trilogy), and even more exciting when Force Awakens came out and was great. However, in this day and age when the MCU is the biggest franchise of the moment, and has a very different take to storytelling (telling a huge story but very slowly in small parts over 23 movies and 11 years), it seems like the idea of a big trilogy of hugely typed movies is something of the past.

Yes, that is why the Star Wars Anthology movies would of been a good idea, as they could be separate, stand-alone entities without going into a overall story. However, with the movie industry the way it is, it just wouldn’t of worked. As shown with Solo, if the experiment fails badly, and the film becomes a flop, it would be hard to get any distributor interested in future Anthology films. However, if an experimental episode of television doesn’t work and flops, it would be nothing – a blip on the radar that isn’t really talked about. Take The Mandalorian, for example – most of the episodes are absolutely brilliant, but now and then, we have the odd average episode (“The Gunslinger”, for example). However, because most of the show is fantastic, no-one really talks about it, or really cares.

And, this is something that could pretty much only happen now. Television has changed so much since 1977, and in the past 43 years, we have a much higher quality of writing and cinematography and a bigger budget for visual effects. Now, certain television shows really rival anything seen on film. So, maybe, this is the perfect time for Star Wars to become television orientated.

Over the next few years, we have season 2 of The Mandalorian coming out in October (and a third season in post-production), and two other TV shows in post-production involving Obi-wan Kenobi and Rogue One’s Cassian Andor, respectively, as well as another untitled female-led series. It seems safe to say that the future of Star Wars is on television, and that is most definitely a good thing.

Streaming Options: Why Don’t You Just Die! Review

One of the weirdest and funny movies to come to streaming services recently is Why Don’t You Just Die. The Russian black comedy-drama is the feature film debut of Russian writer-director, Kirill Sokolov, who had previously made 4 short films. The film also stars several Russian stars, including Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Vitaliy Khaev, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Mikhail Gorevoy and Elena Shevchenko.

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The film at first follows a young man, Matvey (Kuznetsov), who arrives at an apartment with only a hammer, and has a physical fight with an older man, Andrey (Khaev). It is soon revealed that Matvey is actually the boyfriend of Andrey’s daughter, Olya (Kregzhde), and Olya sent Matvey to kill Andrey because apparently, Andrey abused Olya when she was a child. Meanwhile, Andrey, who is a police detective, is having issues with his partner and best friend, Yevgenich (Gorevoy), who wants revenge on Andrey. This leads to a dramatic conclusion which leads to Matvey, Olya and Yevgenich going to the same apartment, all to get revenge on Andrey.

This film is a really exhilarating and funny black comedy, that will make laugh and squirm with equal measure. The film, being a first feature for a director, sometimes feels like an eager kid attempting to show his chops as a director, but saying that, it is still quite entertaining. It is also a film where you can plainly see it’s influences bouncing off the screen, from Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi, Wes Anderson and shades of early Tarantino.

The film is especially influenced by Wright and Raimi in it’s use of camerawork. The camera often uses a swooping and always moving technique that feels very influenced by both Wright and Raimi. There are many parts of the film, in which the camera oddly emphasises certain things, like a turn of the doorknob and someone looking through a peephole, that feels like a quintessential Edgar Wright move.

The film also feels very influenced by Wes Anderson by how Sokolov often frames a shot very squarely and symmetrically. There is also something to be said for the bright use of colours in the movie. The film has uses a lot of bright reds, greens, blues and pinks that feels so vibrant, and just adds to the blackly funny, strange feeling of the movie.

The film also has some wonderful asides, and funny sub plots that make the film very unique. This includes how after Matvey comes back from the dead after being called dead from suffocation, we see how in his youth, he did the exact same thing. Also, when Matvey is attempting to be released from handcuffs, we see, in an almost exercise video-type voice-over, how to and how not to get out of the handcuffs. These unique and strange asides feel almost sitcom-like in their format, and this makes the film very auteur-ist and original.

Other than the style, the film’s plot feels very Tarantino. The film has a very Reservoir Dogs (1992) like format, in which we see the film mainly takes place in one location (Andrey’s apartment), and the film explores the events which got all the characters to this certain location. Also, the film has a fragmented narrative, where it is split into 3 parts, and we see each many from the perspective of each main character (Matvey, Mikhail, and then, Olya).

This is possibly one of the weakest elements of the film, as this non-linear narrative feels slightly unnecessary. When the film goes to a new part of the film, it slightly takes the momentum and pace away from the film. I think, it would of just worked a lot better if they had abandoned this narrative, and just stuck to the blood, guts and gore.

The film can sometimes be really quite bizarre, and just plain surreal in some places. The film is great at dealing with death sequences, in particular, there is a scene where one character has a gruesome, bloody death, then gets up, gives a big speech, and then falls to the floor, dead. Also, our lead character (Matvey) gets beaten, abused and hit all the way through the movie (and effectively dies twice), and this is just excepted at normal. The way in which the film deals with all it’s blood and gore is quite surreal, and ultimately, quite slapstick-y, and this has been plainly influenced by Raimi.

The film is also, performed really well. Everyone’s plays their stereotype very efficiently – Kuznetsov as the put-upon boyfriend; Khaev as the brutish and macho father, and Kregzhde as the young and unsure daughter. Kuznetsov is particularly impressive, as he is a mainly reactive figure, and all he mainly does is react to those around him. Another special mention goes to Shevchenko, who plays Andrey’s put-upon wife (and Olya’s mother).

With all of these influences, the film could possibly read as a rip-off, but, what’s weird about the film is that it ends up feeling oddly original, because of the cheer amount of contrasting influences. The film is so weird, strange and auteurist, and definitely deserves a look. I’m sure you will find it entertaining.

Rating: 7.5/10

From Clue to Gosford Park: What are the films that influenced Rian Johnson’s Knives Out?

Knives Out was one of the best and most critically acclaimed films of last year, and became a surprise box office success (scoring 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, and grossing $311.5 million on a $40 million budget). It was my favourite film of last year, and for me, it ranks amongst Parasite and Booksmart as the few films from last year that I will most likely continue to re-watch over the years.

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The film is directed by Rian Johnson, who has made a name from himself over the years by producing postmodern, quirky, and subversive films that skewer and take apart a chosen genre. He has already done the film noir (with 2005’s Brick), the con man film (with 2008’s The Brothers Bloom), the time travel movie (with 2012’s Looper), the epic space opera film (with 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi), and with Knives Out, he takes on the old-fashioned big ensemble whodunit murder mystery. One of the real joys of the film, much in the same vein as the films of Edgar Wright, Johnson has a huge watching list chock full of influences that have inspired him.

Here, I will take you through all the influences for his work:

Firstly, the Agatha Christie Adaptations (Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, The Mirror Crack’d and Evil Under the Sun)

Knives Out owes a huge debt to Agatha Christie. The incredibly iconic author has become famous mainly for writing mystery and whodunit novels, with labyrinthine plotting, complex characterisations and smart resolutions. Many of her novels have been adapted for the screen, and in particular, four adaptations have been called influences of Johnson.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) is directed by legendary Hollywood director, Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afterman, Network), and remains probably the most famous Christie adaptation, possibly tied with it’s 2017 remake. Often called Christie’s most famous novel, the story is very iconic, and everyone will have heard of it, even if you’re not a fan of the genre. Everyone knows the story – a murder occurs on the iconic train of the title, every-one onboard is a suspect, and Hercule Poirot (played this time by Albert Finney) must investigate who has done it. Poirot is definitely an influence on Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, especially in his over-the-top and caricatured portrayal, and his funny accent. Otherwise, much like Knives Out, the film has a huge ensemble cast, who make up the large group of suspects, and this includes Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman (in an Oscar-winning role), Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Hopkins and Vanessa Redgrave. As we get to the ending (which I won’t spoil), the story tries to incorporate all of the characters in the ensemble into a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. Lumet, an always brilliant director, also does a fantastic job at the helm, as he is able to turn the novel into a properly cinematic movie, that does not feel made for television, as often these murder mysteries end up feeling like.

Death on the Nile (1978) is Christie’s follow up to Orient Express, however, in this adaptation, it done almost as a reboot, with a new director (John Guillermin) and a new actor portraying Poirot (Peter Ustinov). The plot is pretty much a repeat of Orient Express (a murder takes place, there are loads of suspects, and Poirot investigates), but this time, set on a boat going around the Nile. This is a interesting change of pace, and makes the drama all a bit more tense (because guess what, in a ship in the middle of the ocean, there is no escape), and also, a lot prettier to look at (the scenery and costumes are very beautiful). Much like Orient Express, the film has a large ensemble cast, includes Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, David Niven and Maggie Smith, very much like Knives Out. This is, for me, one of the best and most successful adaptations of Christie’s work, mainly only more brilliant by Christie’s brilliant plotting. The ending reveal of who exactly did it could be disappointing to some, as it is probably the most obvious culprit, but this is done more of “howdunnit”, giving us surprises with the exact nature of what happened, and who was involved (and this was definitely an influence on Knives Out). This adaptation is a huge example of Christie’s smarts up there on the big screen.

The Mirror Crack’d (1980) is adaptation of one of Christie’s novel, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, and probably the most famous movie adaptation of Christie’s Miss Marple character, portrayed by Angela Lansbury. In this movie, Marple is an elderly spinster in a small village, who proves herself to be a bit of an amateur detective. Meanwhile, a costume drama film is being filmed in the village, starring two rival actresses, Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak). At a party, a gushing, devoted fan, Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett) is found dead from poisoning after drinking a drink meant for Rudd, leading to Marple to investigate. The plot is a little less ambitious and labyrinthe than the previous two adaptations, but it’s still a smart and though-out film with some surprises. It also feels like possibly Marple was a influence on Ana de Armas’s character, Marta from Knives Out. Both are outcasts from the richer, more upper class characters, and have to play amateur detective to figure out the case. Also, the ensemble cast, possibly not as large as some adaptations, is still packed and star-studded, including Lansbury, Taylor, Novak, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis and Geraldine Chaplin. It’s not as well directed as the previous two adaptations, and does feel slightly televisual, but this film is still worth a look.

Evil Under the Sun (1982) is seen as the sequel to Death on a Nile, with Ustinov returning to his role for a new adventure. And, you got it, the plot is very similar to Orient Express and Nile (a murder takes place, there are loads of suspects, and Poirot investigates), but this time, set in a posh island resort frequented by the rich and famous. The cinematography is very lush and gorgeous, as is the costume and production design. The cast are as good as ever, however, is a little less star-studded – it does include Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg and James Mason, but also includes less famous cast members, including Colin Blakely, Jane Birkin, Nicholas Clay, Roddy McDowall and Sylvia Miles. This adaptation may feel a little old hat to some viewers, as it is very similar to Nile and Orient Express, but saying that, it is still a smart, intricately plotted and fun mystery. Much in the same way of Nile, this whodunnit is formatted as more of “howdunnit”, in which we wonder how exactly it happened, and who was involved. This is a technique that Christie often uses, and although, it sometimes lacks a element of surprise, it makes the story feel tight and believable. This is a effect that Johnson has definitely taken on, as even though, Knives Out is filled with surprises and twists, it’s script is still tight with no filler or wasted screen-time.

Secondly, the mystery comedies and spoof movies (Murder by Death, The Private Eyes, Clue and Gosford Park)

Other than Knives Out’s intelligent and surprising writing and brilliant performances, the film is just plain entertaining, and also, very, very funny. Johnson has assured that Knives Out is not necessary a spoof film, but more of a pastiche of this tired genre. That being said, the film still a huge sense of humour to it, and because of this, Johnson was very inspired by these comedies/spoofs.

Murder by Death (1976) is a comedy mystery film, directed by Robert Moore and written by legendary Hollywood scriptwriter and playwright, Neil Simon. The plot is a broad comedy of mystery/whodunnit tropes, in which 5 famous literary detectives and their sidekicks (that are send-ups of various fictional sleuths, including Poirot, Marple, Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, and Sam Spade) are invited to a bizarre mansion to solve an even more bizarre mystery, very much in the style of Christie’s iconic novel, And Then There Were None. The film is the biggest spoof of all these influences, and feels very similar to various spoof movies of the 70s and 80s, including the works of Mel Brooks (like Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie and Spaceballs) and Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (like Airplane!, Top Secret! and The Naked Gun). The film is not quite as clever or quick-witted as some of these films (especially Young Frankenstein and Airplane), but it is still very funny and entertaining. It is brilliantly written by Simon (or Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and The Goodbye Girl fame), who gives us some very funny one-liners, and some very funny parodic characters. By how this film lovingly tributes whodunit films, it was definitely a influence on what Johnson does with Knives Out.

The Private Eyes (1980) is most possibly the most forgotten about film on this list. The film stars Tim Conway and Don Watts, recurring collaborators that previously starred together in 3 other films together. In this film, the pair play a couple of dim-witted and hopeless detectives, who travel to large English country mansion, to investigate the death of the rich couple who owes the house. All of the staff, including the butler, the maid, a gypsy, a hunchback and a samurai, are suspects. Soon enough, the situation becomes more deadly as the staff starts to be killed off one by one. The film is a lot sillier and more slapsticky than the previous comedies on this film, and is still fairly entertaining. This film is often called an influence on Knives Out for how, despite how the protagonists are very different (Blanc is definitely a lot smarter and more intelligent than Conway and Watts), we are still encouraged to laugh at them, and their over-the-top ridiculousness. It may not be a smart or intelligent as Knives Out, but saying that, it’s silly humour definitely influenced Knives Out’s subversive and funny playfulness.

Clue (1985) is another comedy spoof movie, which is directed and written by Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny), and is based off the classic board-game of Cluedo. The film, centres on six guests who are all invited to a strange mansion for dinner, and when their host is found murdered, they must work together (with the staff) to identify the murderer. Unlike Murder by Death, the film is not a straight-up spoof, but more of a black comedy, with it’s equal moments of thrills and laughs. The film also has an ensemble cast – this time, with comedic actors, including Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean and Lesley Ann Warren. The film, like Mean Girls and The Princess Bride, is a well-renowned cult classic, with a legions of fans, and has become one of the most quotable films of all time (from “flames on the side of my face” to “I am the singing telegram” to “2 plus 1 plus 2 plus 1”). The film is very iconic for how at cinemas, it offered 3 separate, different endings, which have been collected together for home release. The film is hilariously directed by Lynn, who creates the humour with almost watch-like choreography and is always one step ahead of the audience. It may not be a smart of intelligent as Knives Out, but this film definitely influenced it’s funny and quotable nature.

Gosford Park (2001) is a black comedy mystery drama, directed by legendary director Robert Altman (The Player, MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville), and written by Julian Fellowes, who went on to helm the classic British series, Downton Abbey. The film is an old-fashioned whodunnit, in which a bunch of Britons (plus an American film producer), and their servants, gather for a hunting party at the house of the title. Soon, a murder occurs at the party, and all of the characters are suspects. The film as always has an all-star cast, and has a bucketful of British actors, including Kelly MacDonald, Clive Owen, Kristen Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Stephen Fry, Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren, and many more. Gosford Park is notable in how it was made at least 15 years after most of the films on this list, and a lot like Knives Out, the film was touted as a revival of a once tired genre. The series is often touted as a prelude to Downton Abbey (which had started life as a spin-off of this film), in it’s soap opera plots, and witty writing. The film is very well written by Fellowes, who gives all the characters a story-line and personality of their own, and is brilliantly directed by Altman, who always manages an all-star cast very well. It’s also got great cinematography, costume design, production design and performances. The film may not be as flat-out funny or thrilling as Knives Out (the humour is a lot dryer, and the film has a much slower pace), but saying that, this is actually the closest thing you will get to Knives Out with how they were both a revival of this tired genre.

Lastly, the more serious twisty-turny thrillers (Sleuth, The Last of Sheila & Deathtrap)

Although, Knives Out is very funny, and is very complexly plotted, the real genius of the film is just how thrilling it is. Yes, all the Agatha Christie adaptations (especially Death on the Nile) are great and all, but a slight criticism is that they aren’t that thrilling, and you could make the argument that they are slightly televisual in how they are directed. What is so brilliant about Knives Out, that it remains a very cinematic experience – it is exciting, thrilling and funny, and popcorn entertainment at it’s best. Because of that, Johnson looked at mystery popcorn thrillers for influences on his film.

Sleuth (1972) is a British mystery thriller that remains one of Rian Johnson’s favourite films. The film is last film by legendary Hollywood director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Guys and Dolls), and stars Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. It is a twisty-turner mystery thriller, which centres on Milo Tindle (Caine) confronting his lover’s husband, Andrew Wyke (Olivier). Over the two hours run time, the two manipulate each other, and pull various cons on each other. The film is an incredibly confident and ballsy movie – essentially being a movie with just two actors in one location, and feels like it could be a feature-length episode of the BBC anthology show, Inside No. 9. The influence is especially seen in Knives Out for being set in a lavish, huge and posh mansion, as well for the various twists and turns, and plugging the rug from under the audience’s eyes. It is so much of an influence that a piece of automata from the film, Jolly Jack the Sailor is used in Knives Out.

The Last of Sheila (1973) is a really underrated gem from the 70s. The film is directed by underrated director, Herbert Ross (Funny Girl, Play it Again, Sam, The Secret of My Success, Steel Magnolias), and has a very odd writing team consisting of actor, Anthony Perkins (Psycho) and musical, song-writing legend, Stephen Sondheim. The film is influenced by various murder mystery parties that both Perkins and Sondheim used to host. The film is centred on a wealthy movie producer, Clinton Greene (James Coburn), who, a year after his wife, Sheila, had been killed in a hit-and-run, invites 6 of his friends to go on a cruise with him. Their is a secret motivation, however, as Clinton has figured out that one of these friends must have been the one who killed Sheila. As he plays a Cluedo-type of game with them, another one of the characters is found dead, and a new mystery begins. This is a whodunit, done seriously without many laughs, but still done very efficiently, with the props given to Ross and the writers. The cast are all very good, especially Coburn, Dyon Cannon, Richard Benjmain and James Mason. The film is very notable for how it basically has two mysteries going on at once, and both of them feel very interesting, developed and thought-out. The film also has an almost “false ending”, in which we think everything is resolved, only for them to have an even smarter resolution, which very much inspired Knives Out. An underrated gem, you should definitely check out this movie.

Deathtrap (1982) is another underrated gem, directed by the previously featured director on the list, Lumet, and written by Jay Presson Allen, based on the play by Ira Levin. The film is very similar to Sleuth, but this time we have Caine in the older man role, and Superman’s own Christopher Reeve in the younger man role. The film centres on failed playwright, Sidney Bruhl (Caine), who gets given a manuscript from one of his students, Clifford Anderson (Reeve). Annoyed that the script is much better than his, he invites Clifford for dinner with his wife, Myra (Dyon Cannon), which ends in tragedy for one of the three characters. The film, as always, is brilliantly directed by Lumet, who makes the film very tense and thrilling. Very much in the same way as Sleuth, the film is incredibly ballsy in how it centres mainly on two actors in one location for the whole run-time. The twisty-turny, subversive and thrilling plotting is also on display here, and you can definitely feel that influence on Knives Out. This is another one you should definitely check out, especially if you’re a fan of twisty-turny thrillers.

With all these influences, Johnson has created a film has intricate plotting, witty and subversive humour, and thrilling and tense direction. What’s so wonderful about Knives Out is that is a loving tribute to the murder mysteries/ whodunit genre, whilst reviving the genre with a new and original story. It is simultaneously a film that feels quintessentially Rian Johnson, while doing standing on it’s own as a stand-alone movie. It is such a great movie, that will hopefully grow in stature over the years. I can’t wait to see what Rian Johnson has in mind for the sequel, which is currently is development. Hopefully, it will be just as fantastic.

The Mandalorian Episodes 7 and 8 – “The Reckoning” and “Redemption” Review

Well, that’s it. DisneyPlus’ very first original show, and flagship programme, The Mandalorian has ended it’s first season. The show that originated as a Star Wars spin-off, has received critical acclaim and a legion of fans, and has revived Star Wars back to it’s former glory after two lackluster efforts with Solo and The Rise of Skywalker. The show is the best thing Star Wars has done since The Last Jedi came out (2 years ago), and the two part finale is a brilliant example of just how good it is.

The two part finale consists of the 7th episode, “The Reckoning” and the 8th episode, “Redemption”. In The Reckoning, The Mandalorian (or “Mando”) (Pedro Pascal) receives a message from Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) that The Client (Werner Herzog) has become desperate to gain the Child (or Baby Yoda). The two of them, along with Mando’s old friends, Cara Dune (Gina Carano) and Kuiil (Nick Nolte), create a plan to kill The Client by using a plan consisting of using Baby Yoda as bait. However, the plan is complicated by a rival pursuer of Baby Yoda, Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). In Redemption, Mando, Cara Dune, Greef Karga, Baby Yoda, along with IG-11 (Taika Waititi), all attempt to run and hide to save Baby Yoda from Gideon and his legion of storm troopers.

Both of these episodes are very much connected, and feel like a two-parter. This is a fairly different rhythm from the rest of the series, as it has mainly been all stand-alone episodes. The first 3 episodes were all quite connected, but still felt like separate entities, while the next 3 episodes were very much independent adventures, all of which had a loose story arc of Baby Yoda and his origins. It seems like the show is taking the template of classic shows, like Buffy, The X-Files and 2000s reboot of Doctor Who in how they are doing separate episodes, with a loose story arc, which comes to it’s conclusion in its finale.

The Reckoning sees a return to many characters that have appeared throughout the season. This is a nice rhythm for the series, as it ultimately just contains two main characters in Mando and Baby Yoda, but a conveyor belt of recurring characters. In this episode, we see the return of Cara Dune, Greef Karga and Kuiil, all of which are interesting and engaging characters. In particular, Kuiil is a really fun character, who acts as a fun foil to our lead character. I do wish, however, that Karga was given a little better arc. It was interesting to see him be a good guy in this episode, but I just wish that he’s been given more a well thought-out character arc.

IG-11’s role in this episode was also very interesting. IG-11, voiced writer-director Taika Waititi (who also directs the next episode), was a droid who appeared in the show’s first episode, in which he was a killing droid and bounty hunter. In this episode, Kuiil has re-programmed him to become a nurse droid, who looks after Baby Yoda. This is a very interesting competent, and it was great to see a character who could of easily been written out be revived.

This episode also introduced to Moff Gideon, who looks set to be the show’s next big villain. The character is portrayed by Giancarlo Esposito, who is well known for his role as the villain, Gus Fring in the television shows, Breaking Bad (2008-2013), most recently appearing in the fifth season of Better Call Saul (2015-present), just last month. It’s no wonder Gus Fring is often called one of best villains of all time, as here, Esposito injects his character with a real menace and peril that other villains lack. It also refreshing to see Esposito performing loudly as Gus is often known for being a soft-spoken and quiet villain.

The end of this episode is also really effective. Without spoiling too much of what happens, the ending is quite a bleak affair that does not suggest a happy ending for the finale. This is very reminiscent of the ending to Empire Strikes Back, in how it has offers a bleak view of the future. It’s also very brave that they do this, and having watched the finale, they stick to it, and don’t reverse it. The ending shot is also really well-shot, and has some really nice cinematography. Ending brilliantly, this leads us to the next episode, Redemption.

Redemption is a really efficient finale, that ties up all the loose ends from the series. The episode starts off really great, in which we see focus on who stormtroopers, who have kidnapped Baby Yoda. The two of them are voiced by the actors, Jason Sudeikis and Adam Pally, two cameo appearances that never proves irritating or unnecessary. The scene is very funny, and entertaining, but still very squirm-inducing as both characters violently punch Baby Yoda.

The next scene is particularly great, as, after IG-11 rescues Baby Yoda, we see him ride as across the desert with him in tow. This is really entertaining scene that will excite any viewer, no matter how old or young. A real highlight is this episode is how it’s directed – the directer, Waititi directs the episode with a real excitement and passion, and feels like one of the liveliest episodes of the series to date. Waititi is a really mercurial filmmaker, and he can do a variety of different projects, from blockbuster films (including Thor: Ragnarok, Star Wars) to passion projects (Jojo Rabbit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows), and here, he shows us that he can really direct action very well.

The action comes to a head about half way through the episode, which is a big battle between the characters. During this scene, Mando gets hurt, and in retaliation, IG-11 attempts to help him but must remove his helmet. This is the first we have seen Mando without his helmet on for the whole series, and this is such a cathartic moment, as we have been waiting the whole series for him to do to that. It is a very ballsy move for them to withhold showing his face for 7 whole episodes, but doing this, really informs you a lot about his character and just how secretive he is.

The action slightly peaks here at this point of the episode, and this would be my only complaint with the episode – is that the episode struggles to be as quite as good as this towards the end of the episode. The episode slightly peaks halfway through, and struggles to get it back. That being said, there are still a lot of great moments that occur towards the end.

This includes when another recurring character throughout the series, The Armorer (Emily Swallow) returns, and in a brilliantly performed and directed moment, The Armorer takes on and kills about 7 stormtroopers. She has not appeared that much in the series, but the episode really shines whenever she appears, and I can’t wait to see where they take her character in season 2. Also, IG-11 continues to have some really great moments in this episode. He has a whole, closed arc in this episode, and it’s great to see a character get closure in this series.

As the episode (and series) wraps up, the film leaves us on some cliffhangers and closed endings. Mando and Baby Yoda get a fairly happy ending, and we can assume that some still living characters are going to return also. Also, Moff Gideon gets a really fun cliff-hanger, which is very exciting, and can only spell exciting things for the next season.

The episode, and by extension, the series, has some a good mixture between giving some closure, killing off some characters (and hopefully, keeping them dead), and some open-ended cliffhangers. I, personally, can’t wait to see where the series will go for the next season, which will hopefully come out in October. Hopefully, it will be just as good.

Streaming Options: Sea Fever Review

If you’re looking for something to watch on streaming services recently, then look no further than Sea Fever, a very interesting and engaging horror thriller from the writer/ director, Neasa Hardiman. The film is available from the majority of streaming service providers, including Amazon and Google Play, where you can rent it for £4.49.

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The film follows a young and solitary marine-biology student, Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) joins a ragged fishing trawler for research, joining a crew 6 others. Whilst out at sea, an strange parasite-like life form grabs holds of the ship, and forces it to stay put. Soon enough, the parasite starts infecting the crew members, and killing them off one-by-one. To save them, Siobhan and the crew members must come up with a way to beat the monster.

Obviously, from the plot alone, you can tell that the plot is a thrilling and claustrophobic horror-thriller in the vein of classics like, 1982’s The Thing and 1979’s Alien, with a little bit of Jaws (1975) also thrown into the mix. Much like these three classics, the setting really adds to the claustrophobia – setting it on a ship in the middle of the ocean that soon gets stuck makes us feel as trapped and confined as the characters in the film does.

Also, much like these 2 classics, the characters are all very well-drawn and interesting. The lead character, Siobhan is particularly great, and the performance by Corfield is also very good. It is also very refreshing to see a woman lead the film, especially as it makes it different from films like The Thing and Jaws, which are very male-oriented. Also, Siobhan’s arc of going from an lonely, solitary woman, who gains friends and confidence amongst the rest of the crew, is very interesting, and felt reminiscent of Ripley’s arc in the 1986 classic, Aliens.

Also, the various supporting characters are also very engaging. The rest of the crew on the boat include the husband-and-wife piloting team, Freya (Connie Nielson) and Gerald (Dougray Scott); the rebellious Johnny (Jack Hickey); the bookish mechanic, Omid (Ardalan Esmaili) and the older “grandmother” figure, Ciara (Olwen Fouéré).

As you can tell from this, all of the supporting characters are really well-drawn and interesting. Yes, they do conform to certain stereotypes, but because of the film’s good writing and good performances, that matters a lot less. In particular, Omid is an riveting character, and the friendship he gains with Siobhan is a real highlight of the film.

When discussing the monster itself, it is a scary and thrilling villain. The monster is not seen through a lot of film, and this only makes it more effective. This is an effect that Steven Spielberg brilliant uses in Jaws (as well as Jurassic Park), and it works so well, as makes the audience imagine more of what the monster is like.

The monster in fact, is very timely, as it is very similar to the Coronavirius pandemic that is going on at the moment. In a especially relatable moment, Siobhan states that possibly all of them might have been infected because they all have open wounds, of which the parasite can infect through. This is particularly scary, as like The Thing, it means that any of the characters can be infected or in peril, without them even knowing it.

I do wish, however, that the film was a little more gruesome and gross. In contrast to The Thing, which is a really visceral and disgusting movie, the film slightly lacks that. However, there is one particularly gross scene, in which one of the infected characters’ eyeballs explode with a lot of bloods and guts as the parasite leaves his body.

I do think that, sometimes, the plot is a little confusing, and sometimes it is not exactly clear what the monster is, what is it’s motivation, and how exactly the parasite is passed around. That being said, when the monster is seen in full, it is still very scary and effectively frightening.

In conclusion, Sea Fever is a film that is really worth a watch. It is scary, thrilling, entertaining, and filled with well-drawn characters and great performances. It’s not perfect, but you should definitely check it out, if you are looking for a good scare.

Rating: 7/10

Streaming Options: Blow the Man Down Review

One of the recent films (well, I say, recent – the past month) to be released on streaming services includes Blow the Man Down. This latest black comedy crime thriller film from writer-director, Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, had it’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April last year. It was then bought my Amazon Studios following this, and was released exclusively on Amazon Prime Video last month.

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The plot follows two estranged sisters, Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla Connolly (Sophie Lowe), who are struggling with money issues after the death of their mother, and are dealing with her mother’s failing funeral business. They are bonded together after Mary Beth kills a man that she has a dangerous run-in with. It is soon revealed that this man works for a brothel, and this leads the two young girls to face the dangers of the crime world, including having run-ins with the manipulative brothel boss, Enid (Margo Martindale).

From that alone, you can tell that this film has a classic black comedy type of plot, very much in the vein of the Coen brothers or Martin McDonagh. The film fells very inspired by the Coen’s 1996 classic, Fargo, especially in how the film depicts a murder, and the investigation of this by various police officers. In fact, this film feels like a by-the-book retelling of the second season of the television adaptation of Fargo.

The film doesn’t live up to these influences, but saying that, it is still an entertaining romp nonetheless. The real strength of the film is the power of the two young performers, as Saylor and Lowe are both really great in their roles. A lot of the film relies not just on them, but their believable chemistry as sisters, and they pull it off very well. For me, this is really the high part of the film, and works really well.

The film also has a scene-stealing and entertaining supporting role for Margo Martindale. Martindale has been an “Esteemed Character Actress” (sorry, that’s a Bojack Horseman joke), and has appeared in a variety of films and TV shows in supporting roles, including her Emmy Award-winning role in The Americans. Here, she gets that a full-on, scenery chewing type of supporting role, and it is so fun to she her having fun.

Also, another pleasure of the film is how the narrative has a lot of fun twists and turns in it. The twists aren’t exactly the biggest of surprises, and maybe the film could of used more of a subversive, fun edge to it. That being said, however, these twists and turns, in a very black comedy-type way, are still very entertaining and fun.

The film also has a great visual style and panache to it, and some terrific direction by Cole and Krudy. The film expertly uses editing, especially how it uses fades, and this creates an especially haunting, eerie atmosphere. Also, the soundtrack is one of the film’s real highlights – it has a booming, impactful score that is very attention grabbing, and startling.

There is some really good stuff in this film, but I just wished that it was a little more polished. As much as the relationship between the sisters is interesting, the stuff about the seedy crime underbelly is a lot less interesting. It feels like this is a little tacked-on – they don’t get into it until about half an hour into the run-time, and feels almost like it was added last minute to the plot to flesh it out somewhat.

Also, the police officer part of the story, in which we see young police officer, Justin Brennan (played by Will Brittain) investigate Mary Beth and Priscilla’s murder, and fall for Priscilla, feels very under-baked. All of these underdeveloped plot elements fell like they might of worked better in a TV show or mini-series format, as they would have given more time for these elements to breathe.

That being said, Blow the Man Down is a very interesting film that, although, it is not as perfect or polished as it could be, is still very much worth a watch due to it’s performances (especially by Martindale, Saylor and Lowe), visual style and score. It is available on Amazon Prime, and if you have nothing to do (which I’m sure many people do), you should definitely check this out.

Rating: 7/10

Better Call Saul Season 5 Finale – “Something Unforgivable” Recap

Well, that’s it. Better Call Saul has ended it’s perfect fifth season on Monday (or Tuesday here in the UK) with it’s season finale, “Something Unforgivable”. The episode follows Lalo (Tony Dalton) and Nacho (Michael Mando) going to his second home in Chihuahua, and introduces him to Don Eladio (Steven Bauer) – a former character from Breaking Bad. Soon, Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) plans for Lalo to be killed, and sends a bunch of assassins to his house.

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Meanwhile, after the very tense visit from Lalo, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) relax at a motel. Kim goes to collect her pro bono cases, and has a tense encounter with Howard (Patrick Fabian). Back at the motel, Jimmy and Kim have fun, and begin to toy with the idea to resolve the Sandpiper case by sabotaging Howard. Jimmy thinks of it as a joke, but Kim might possibly be serious.

This episode isn’t as exciting and eventful as the previous two episodes. It might not be brilliant as the previous two episodes, “Bagman” and “Bad Choice Road”, but that would be very difficult as the two episodes were all-time classics, and possibly the best two episodes of series, ever. That being said, it is still a really fine and terrific finale to what is probably the best season of the show as of yet.

The episode is particularly great for the character development of Lalo. Lalo has been an absolutely fantastic addition to the series, and that’s especially impressive for a character that was introduced 4 seasons into a popular TV show. In this episode, we see his household, as well as his relationships with various people here, including his friends and family.

What is also wonderful about Lalo’s role in this episode, is that we start to feel sympathy for him, and align ourselves with him slightly. This has always been a great feature of both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, in which the show makes us feel sympathy for characters who we normally wouldn’t care about. Even the villains of both shows, like Lalo and Breaking Bad’s Gus, are written with some complexity and depth. And here, we understand, that Lalo, although sleazy and amoral, still has plenty people who he loves and cares about . And, as we get to the end of the episode (which of course, I won’t spoil), we really get to feel sorry for him for some of the horrible things that happen to him.

This episode is also significant in that it does not give that much closure. Going into this finale, a lot of people were theorising that either Kim, Lalo or Nacho were going to die, all because none of the characters were not in Breaking Bad. However, none of these characters do die, and that is something I like about this finale. They have saved Lalo as the villain for the final season of the show, which is something I think is a safe choice, as with only 10 episodes left, they don’t want to waste time introducing a new villain. I mean, the antagonists in the final season of Breaking Bad (Lydia, Uncle Jack and Todd) were always unfavourably compared to Gus, the season 4 villain.

Also, as always the case with Better Call Saul, the episode has some brilliant sequences, which are delivered with a real punch through the terrific direction and cinematography. The scene in which Nacho attempts to escape Lalo’s compound is particularly tense, and scary. There is a brilliant panning shot where Lalo is running down in the crawl space of the house that is brilliant shot and edited. Better Call Saul continues to raise the bar for cinematography in television, and that’s wonderful to see, as it always used to be seen as a feature of cinematic films.

Otherwise, this episode is great for developing Kim’s character. As we see her and Jimmy consider toying the idea of framing Howard, it becomes clear that Kim is “breaking bad”, as she becomes more involved in the crime world. There is a really great moment that highlights this change, where Jimmy asks Kim if she is serious about framing Howard, and she does finger guns back to Jimmy. The moment feels very Saul Goodman, and very much mirrors the move that Jimmy did to Kim in the season 4 finale (“Winner”).

It is becoming more and more apparent that this is the reason why she does not appear in Breaking Bad, although, the reason itself is still unknown. Possibly she ends up incarcerated. However, as many fans have stated, this behaviour is slightly out-of-character for her, and some theorise that she is playing a long con game against Jimmy. It would be a harsher blow for him than her just being dead or prison, and would explain his cynical personality in Breaking Bad.

In addition, this episode is great because of how Howard gets a lot more to do. By the end of the episode, it seems like they have set up a big role for him in the next season. This is a wonderful thing, because I have always stated that Howard is a great addition to the show, and he should not just disappear after not being appearing that heavily in the past 2 seasons, ever since Chuck’s death.

This episode is really a showcase for Kim and Lalo, and cast a light on Rhea Seehorn and Tony Dalton’s acting chops, respectively. Although, some major characters (like Jimmy, Nacho and Mike) have interesting moments in this episode (like Jimmy’s PTSD, Nacho escaping Lalo’s house, and Mike telling Jimmy that Lalo will be killed), this is really Kim and Lalo’s episode. It’s sets up a final season, which will probably feature them prominently, which is only a good thing.

Overall, this episode sets up a fantastic final season. There are many brilliant story-lines that have been set up, and I can’t wait to see what the writers do, where Jimmy’s arc will most likely be completed. Also, we’ll finally figure out what will happen to Kim, Nacho and Lalo, and also, Saul/Jimmy in the present, under the alias of Gene Takavic. Nonetheless, this season was absolutely fantastic – it was the best season yet and will definitely be up there as one of my favourite TV shows of 2020.