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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.