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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.