This review has some minor spoilers about the episode.
Better Call Saul returned on Netflix on Tuesday here in the UK, and continues it’s run of brilliant episodes, with the fourth episode of it’s fifth season, “Namaste”. Carrying from the previous episode (“The Guy for This”), Kim (Rhea Seehorn) gives Mesa Verde a offer so that Mr. Acker can keep his house, and when they refuse, she turns to Saul (Bob Odenkirk) for help.
Also, this episode centres on Howard (Patrick Fabrian) having a lunch with Saul (Bob Odenkirk) and offering a promising new opportunity. Otherwise, Hank (Dean Schrader) and Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) find the three dead drops that Domingo had told them about, with Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) watching close by. Also, Mike (Jonathan Banks) continues to mourn Werner’s death, which ends in a possibly fatal interaction for him.
This episode starts with a in media res in which we see Saul going to buy a heavy object from a pawn shop, eventually settling with 3 bowling balls. This is a very humorous and entertaining moment, that was often a common feature of Breaking Bad, from the iconic pink teddy bear to the moment Walt goes back to his dilapidated house to collect a vial of ricin.
However, it hasn’t been used quite as much in Better Call Saul, and it’s shame as they are always effective. The use of the flash-forward gives us a way to invest in the episode, always guessing when, where and how this takes place. Also, they use a brilliant and upbeat piece of music when they eventually revisit it, which makes for really satisfying viewing.
The episode also sees the return of Howard Hamlin, brilliantly played by Patrick Fabian. This is the first time we have seen him this season, and it was great to see him back. He has had a really interesting trajectory over the series – he originally started off as Chuck (Michael McKean)’s business partner, and possibly the villain in waiting, but over time, after Chuck’s breakdown and eventual death, we got to see different and more complex sides of his character.
It was really interesting to see him back in the series, as it reminds us off the earlier seasons of the show, in which he featured prominently. It reminds the audience of a time when Saul was less corrupt and more innocent. However, it does seem like after Chuck’s death in season 3, the character has had less agency and been used less frequently, and it does beg the question of what will happen to the character as we reach the definite end of the series. It would be a shame if the character just fizzed out and was never seen again, as he seems like too good of a character for that.
Another brilliant moment in this episode was involving Gus, and how he awaited to hear news about whether Hank and Gomez have discovered the dead drops. He does this by stalling his colleague, Lyle numerous times, so he could stay longer. The moment is directed with a palpable tension, and feels reminiscent of some of Breaking Bad’s most thrilling and tense sequences. Also, Lyle is such a terrific minor character that feels like won’t get sufficient development now. Maybe another spin-off for him? Better Call Lyle?
Kim and Saul’s story also continues to be really interesting in this episode. Their relationship is a fascinating and ever-evolving element to the show. This episode shows Kim attempting to use Saul as a lawyer to defend Mr. Acker, going against her company, Mesa Verde’s wishes. This is a very promising plot point that could spell a very interesting future for both Kim and Saul. Could this is the moment where Kim breaks bad, and ends up on Saul’s corrupt side? Could this be the beginning of the end for her?
Also, Mike has some interesting moments this episode – he does feel like he had little to do in the first three episodes of the series, as they have stretched out the plot-line involving him mourning Werner’s death. However, this episode ends on a very promising plot point that could be very interesting for him in the future.
Better Call Saul continues it’s run of fantastic episodes this week, and although there are still 6 episodes left, this is probably the show’s strongest outing yet. Hopefully the next episode, Dedicado a Max will be just as great.
Ever since the majority of Studio Ghibli’s movies have been put on Netflix here in the UK, I have been trying to watch the lot of them. Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation film studio, that produces anime feature films, and short films. It was founded in 1985, and Hayao Miyazaki is known for being one of the biggest directors in studio. The studio have produced several iconic films, such as Spirited Away (2001), My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and Princess Mononoke (1997).
They have, however, produced a variety of smaller, lesser-seen movies, including 2010’s Arrietty (or The Secret World of Arrietty as released in the US). The movie marks one of the fare few occasions where the film was not directed by Miyazaki – the film was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The film was made in the period that was the run up to Miyazaki’s retirement from the company, which came after his 2013 film, The Wind Rises (although, he has announced that he is returning to the studio with How Do You Live?).
The film is one of the few Ghibli productions to have been based from a classic English novel, The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The plot resolves a family of three “tiny people”, who are live secretly in the walls and floors of a household, borrowing items to survive. Soon, a young boy, Sho (Ryunosuke Kamiki), who moves to the house, and forms a friendship with the daughter of the tiny people, Arrietty (Mirai Shida). The film has two dubbed versions, one released in the US and one in the UK. The cast for the US version includes Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, and Will Arnett, while the UK cast includes Saoirse Ronan, Olivia Colman, Phyllida Law, Mark Strong, and makes the feature debut of Spider-Man’s own Tom Holland.
Over the course of the film, we the 14-year-old Arrietty deal with growing up, and have to face more “adult” missions of gaining supplies from the house. We see her deal with more independence, and the prospect of her family having to move away and go to a new home. This is a element of many Studio Ghibli movies – they often feature a young protagonist (normally in the early to mid teens), and their journey into the real world. Arrietty as a character is very similar to Spirited Away’s Chihiro and Kiki’s Delivery Service’s Kiki. The Studio Ghibli movies do what the Pixar movies do in which they feel very relatable and accessible for younger viewers, but has a lot of adult fans too.
Arrietty, however, as opposed to many of Miyazaki’s movies, lacks the epic scope of his works. There is no real large group of characters, and there is not a lot really at stake here. Much like the lead characters of the film, the film itself has a much smaller scale, and lesser stakes. The film does, however, take great attention to the little details of the Borrower lifestyle – how they have made a human lifestyle around them, and how they are steal from the humans.
The film is also exquisitely detailed and intricate with it’s animation, much like all of the Studio Ghibli movies. It is really refreshing to watch these animations, as they often use hand-drawn animation, as opposed to the computer-generated animation. Hand-drawn animation is really wonderful to see, firstly because it is not used as much recently, but also brings a tactile, and personal element to the film.
The animation is also really beautiful. The landscape shots of the film are particularly gorgeous – they feel like really beautiful watercolour paintings. It feels as though you could pause any frame of this film and it could be a beautiful painting that belonged in a gallery.
There are some flaws to the film, and much of that comes from just how small-scale the film is. The film struggles to pin down a consistent plot, and the connection between Arrietty and Sho is not very fleshed-out. Although, much of the charm with the film is how wonderfully small-scale the film is, this can equally be a little frustrating, as it sometimes lacks a little engagement.
There are also various characters that feel slightly one-note, particularly the “villain” of the film, Haru, the maid of the house, who threatens the borrowers’ lifestyle. Her villainous actions never really feel justified or explained, and the film might have better without her. Also, Arrietty’s mother, Homily could of got more development – often, throughout the film, it feels like she is demoted to a screaming and nagging stereotype.
Despite that, however, Arrietty is another wonderful addition to the Studio Ghibli canon – it is beautifully animated and really sweet. Well worth a look, even if it doesn’t live up to the likes of My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away.
Better Call Saul returned for another episode on Tuesday here in the UK, with the third episode of season 5, called “The Guy for This”. Picking up right where the last episode left off, the episode follows our lead anti-hero, Saul Goodman (portrayed by Bob Odenkirk) getting taken off in a car by Nacho (Michael Mando), and meeting up with his boss, Lalo (Tony Dalton).
Lalo and Nacho hire Saul to be a lawyer for Domingo (who will eventually become Krazy-8) to ensure his release, and make sure that he doesn’t reveal anything. Meanwhile, Kim (Rhea Seehorn) attempts to deal with a stubborn homeowner, who won’t leave his house, of which Mesa Verde (who Kim works for) wants to use for land. Also, Mike (Jonathan Banks) continues to wallow in Werner’s death, and Nacho tries to convince his father to retire early.
What has always been so wonderful about both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad is it’s wonderful stylistic flourishes and cinematography. In the past two episodes, we’ve had two separate montages – in the first episode, we had a montage of Saul giving a variety of phones for his clients and in the second, we had an opening montage of two of Saul’s clients going on drinking and drug-afflicted rampage, not to mention the beautiful black and white cinematography in the first episode, showcasing Saul in the future, after the events of Breaking Bad.
The third episode is no exception, as the episode starts with a very strange and surreal sequence of a large group of ants gathering on the ice cream that Saul dropped in the last episode. The sequence is not only very metaphorical (being an allegory for Saul’s slow descent into a rotten, morally grey lawyer), but is also a strange and hypnotising sequence that feels very cinematic. Better Call Saul (as well as Breaking Bad) has always been brilliant at visual storytelling, and this montage is a prime example of this.
The episode also carries on the series’s development of it’s key characters. Kim has a particularly interesting development in this episode as we see her lose her temper with the stubborn homeowner, Mr. Acker. In a later scene, it is very interesting to see her return to his house and apologise to him, but he continues to be hostile to her.
This has been a recurrent theme for Kim over the course of the show – that she is a good person, who always finds herself pushed to the edge because of the corrupt world around her. She is very similar to Breaking Bad’s Jesse in how she is the moral compass of the show, and makes a brilliant screen partner to Bob Odenkirk’s Saul, who is slowly getting more corrupt and darker. Seehorn is also really terrific in the role, giving a very subtle and subdued performance, which also serves as a great contrast to Odenkirk’s lively and flamboyant performance.
It is also really fascinating to see what will happen to her, as she, unlike many of the characters is not featured in Breaking Bad – is she dead, will she start engaging in Saul’s criminal activities or will and her Saul just drift apart? At the moment, it seems like any of these theories could happen, and be very plausible.
Otherwise in the episode, Saul is taken by Nacho and Lalo and they hire him to be a lawyer. Lalo gets more to do in this episode, and he is a really interesting addition to the cast this season. Much like his uncle, Hector before, he is different than the normal villains in this universe as he much more charming and charismatic, and this is really refreshing to see.
Also, it is really interesting to see the different sides to various characters in this episode – we see Saul being scared and vulnerable, Nacho being more emotional when talking with his father, and Mike being distraught and heartbroken as he continues to wallow in Werner’s death. It is so great that the writing of this show continues to show different sides of all of the characters. Pretty much all of the characters in this series never feel one-note, and are just getting more interesting as the series goes on.
Not only, this, but this episode also sees the return of the iconic Breaking Bad characters, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), as well as his partner, Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada). The return is really pleasant and amusing to watch, and ultimately quite bittersweet, considering both characters’ fates in the original series. It feels as those they might not necessarily need them to appear in any more episodes (one guest appearance might be enough) but their return is pleasant enough.
This episodes continues this series success rate for the fifth season of this brilliant show, and it will hopefully go up from here. If it continues like this, it might actually end up being better than Breaking Bad. Here’s looking forward to next week.
The cult anthology series, Inside No. 9 returned to our screens a month ago. It has been just under two years since it was on TV as a proper full time series, before returning for a one-off live Halloween special in October 2018, which already feels like an iconic episode of television. Created by Reese Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton (who have previously created the cult television shows, The League of Gentlemen (1999-2002, 2017) and Psychoville (2009-2011)), the series, known for it’s anthology format and twisty, subversive stories, and it’s newest episode, Misdirection is a brilliant example of this.
I say this because the series’ fifth series has been a little disappointing up till now: the second episode (“Death Be Not Proud”) – in which did a brilliant crossover with Psychoville – was a real highlight, however, the first episode (“The Referee’s a W***er”) was quite underwhelming and the third episode (“Love’s Great Adventure”) was an interesting experiment, but ultimately felt a little hollow and dull. However, with it’s fourth episode, “Misdirection”, the show returned to being absolutely brilliant.
The plot follows Neville Griffin (Shearsmith), a magician, extremely secretive about his trick secrets, who is interviewed by student journalist and aspiring magician, Gabriel (Fionn Whitehead). Over the course of their interview, Gabriel attempts to uncover about Griffin’s secrets, including how he might of stolen his famous chair levitation trick from another magician, Willy Wondo (Pemberton).
Although, in this series, Pemberton and Shearsmith have experimented and done very different things, this episode feels like a return to the show’s very traditional roots. The episode’s concept of a chamber piece between two characters who are both trying to outsmart and outwit each other feels very quintessentially “Inside No. 9”. It feels remarkably similar to various episodes of the show, especially the season 3 hit, “The Riddle of the Sphinx”, often rightfully called one of the best episodes of the series. The episode returned to being impacted by some of the show’s biggest influences (after last week’s was inspired by Mike Leigh), including Hitchcock (especially Rope (1948)) and Christopher Nolan (especially The Prestige (2006)).
In very typical Inside No. 9 fashion, the episode has a variety of twists and turns, all of which are very successful. It is really remarkable that, despite the show going into it’s sixth year on the small screen, it still remains as shocking and surprising as it was when it first started. What is so brilliant about the script, though, is that it is very tightly written, and all the twists have all been very well set up, while still remaining surprising. The script also contains contains some well placed black humour and wit that fans have accustomed to.
Another element that the fans have become accustomed to is the central guest star that stars alongside Pemberton and Shearsmith. This season we have already had David Morrissey, Jenna Coleman and Debbie Rush, and in this episode, we have Fionn Whitehead. The young up and comer, who was really great in the 2017 war film, Dunkirk and Black Mirror interactive film, Bandersnatch, makes a great sparring partner to Shearsmith in this two-hander. Whitehead, who has already worked with Christopher Nolan, Charlie Brooker and now, Shearsmith and Pemberton, has definitely shown that he has a big future ahead of him. This episode also has some very welcome cameos from Jill Halfpenny as Shearsmith’s wife and Tom Goodman-Hill as a police detective.
As great as it was to see this episode returning to the show’s roots, it still feels like this series needs to perfect it’s more experimental episodes. Season 4’s “Once Removed”‘s pitch perfect gel of a real quality episode with an experimental format was the show at it’s very best, and this season still has yet to replicate that.
Despite that, this episode was still really terrific. The best of the season so far, this episode shows Inside No. 9 at it’s witty, twisty, turny, subversive and funny best.
Bong Joon-ho is very much hot property right now. His latest film, the smash hit, Parasite has ended up as one of the most acclaimed films of recent years, and he recently won four Oscars for his work on the film. Winning for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film, the director has the record amount of wins for one film all in one night. He is everywhere at the moment, and I thought that I’d celebrate all his films together, including some of the earlier, more unseen works.
(Note: I haven’t seen Joon-ho’s debut, Barking Dogs Never Bite, which I cannot find anywhere. If anyone knows where I can find it, it would love to know).
6. Okja (2017)
Okja is largely notable for being one of the first feature films distributed by Netflix (who at that time, were largely famous for their original TV shows), and it showcases Joon-ho at possibly his weirdest and most bizarre. The plot resolves around a young girl, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) who goes through everything to save her best friend, a “super pig”, named Okja, who is being hunted by a powerful, multinational company, who plan to use him for food. The film, coming off the back of Snowpiercer, also includes a vary of bigger, Hollywood names, including Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Giancarlo Esposito and Jake Gyllenhaal.
The film is largely remarkable for it’s unashamed weirdness, which it really never would of got away with if it wasn’t an Netflix production. It has some really arresting images – particularly the scene where Okja is captured and scene involving John Denver’s Annie’s Song – in which we witness the real power of Joon-ho behind the camera. Also, as always, the film includes some brilliant black humour and social satire, this time about the greed of corporate companies. Also, like a lot of his films, it always manages to remain weirdly entertaining in quite a mainstream way.
The real problem with Okja, is that at times, it fails to pull off it’s tricky tonal balance. There are moments of black comedy and even slapstick comedy, that mix with some very emotional scenes, particularly towards the end (including a horrifying sequence where we witness various super-pigs being slaughtered), that could of been better threaded together as a collective whole. Also, Gyllenhaal and Swinton’s performances are sometimes painfully over the top.
Okja is really a film to be admired rather than really praised – it is so unashamedly weird and strange, and it’s lovely to see that it got made, but it sometimes doesn’t always succeed in what it’s trying to do.
5. Snowpiercer (2013)
Snowpiercer marks Joon-ho’s first attempt at doing a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, and for the most part, he really pulls it off. The film, released in 2013, takes place abroad on a large train named Snowpiercer, which carries the last remnants of humanity after global warning has caused Earth to become an abandoned, frozen planet. The film stars Chris Evans as a passenger on the lower-class tail section of the train, who leads a revolution against the elite section of the train. Like Okja, the film stars a range of Hollywood names (alongside Evans), including Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt and Ed Harris, and this time, starring his usual collaborator, Song Kang-ho (The Host, Memories of Murder, Parasite).
What’s really wonderful about Snowpiercer is that it managed to become a real block-buster, grossing 86 million on a 40 million budget, but did this, while still feeling completely like a Bong Joon-ho film. The film, like a lot of Joon-ho’s films, contains some big ideas and wonderful satire. Much like Okja, it deals with possibility of a bleak future, but like Parasite, it deconstructs the class system, and comments on the differences between the rich and poor.
But, like all of Joon-ho’s films, he executes these themes in a supremely entertaining and thrilling way. It is a really great action movie at it’s heart, and it’s action sequences and fight scenes are brilliant directed and well-staged. It’s also great to see a big blockbuster that takes big risks – certain characters are killed off in shocking scenes that make for surprising viewing. Seeing Evans in a dramatic role with depth is also really interesting, and all the other cast are great, including a campy but entertaining Swindon.
As a way to introduce Joon-ho to American and international audiences, Snowpiercer is pretty effective.
4. The Host (2006)
This film, along with 2003’s Memories of Murder, is Joon-ho’s real attempt at doing genre. Here, in 2006’s The Host, we see him taking on the monster film genre. Like a lot of his films, he uses quite a simple and un-complicated premise, and uses this to create something more complex.
The film centres on Park Gang-du (Kang-ho), who lives with his father (Byun Hee-bong) and his daughter, Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung), and works as a vendor in his father’s shop. Soon later, a large monster is spotted, and starts terrorising the public, and it kidnaps Hyun-seo. After Gang-du’s siblings, Nam-joo (Bae Doo-na) and Nam-il (Park Hae-il) arrive, Gang-du makes it his mission to save Hyun-seo from the monster.
Combining some of Joon-ho’s favourite themes and hallmarks, including combining genres of family drama, black comedy and a small bit of social satire, The Host is a real treat. Kang-ho, one of South Korea’s most famous actors is absolutely fantastic in the lead role, as are the other actors, including Ah-sung. Also, a lot like Snowpiercer, the film also definitely takes some risks, particularly towards the end.
Although, Memories of Murder was Joon-ho’s breakout film, The Host was the film that set him off for success in the rest of the world, setting up Snowpiercer and Okja.
3. Memories of Murder (2003)
Although not Joon-ho’s first film, this was the film that he really broke out and became an acclaimed auteur. Like 2006’s The Host, he attempts to do a certain genre, but this time, aiming it at the murder mystery/ detective genre.
Based on the true story of Korea’s first serial murders in history, which took place between 1986 and 1991, and based off the play (written by Kim Kwang-rim), the film stars Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung as two chalk-and-cheese detectives, Park Doo-man and Seo Tae-yoon, respectively, who are investigating the case. While investigating, they come across various red-herrings and clues, some of which might mean something and some of which don’t, and the film ends in a highly ambiguous way.
Unlike Joon-ho’s later films, this film is a little less mainstream and entertaining. The film has a slower pace than usual, and along with it’s ambiguous ending, is a film that is less easy to like. However, the film’s ending is really makes up for it’s slow pace in a wonderful and rather dramatic climax, that has elements of a stand-off from a Spaghetti western.
The film also contains some social satire about the police system in South Korea, and how corrupt the police officers are. Kang-ho and Sang-kyung are also really terrific in the lead roles, as they brilliantly convey the two sides of the same coin (Doo-man being the corrupt one, and Teo-yoon being the more by the book, sensible one). The film also has some elements of black humour, especially shown in Doo-man’s sidekick, Cho Yong-koo (played by Kim Roi-ha).
Often rightfully listed as one of the greatest South Korean films of all time, Memories of Murder is Joon-ho at his real best.
2. Mother (2009)
Mother is often called Joon-ho’s most personal film. It is remarkably different from the rest of his later filmography in that it is wonderfully non-ambitious – it does have the big budget of Snowpiercer or the epic stature of Okja and The Host. It is, however, a really great companion piece to Memories of Murder, seen through it’s detective/procedural roots.
The film follows a unnamed widow and mother (played by a brilliant Kim Hye-ja), who has a mentally challenged son (Won Bin), and they live together in a small Korean town. Mother and son are thrown into chaos when a body of a young girl is discovered, and the son, having interacted with the girl the night before, is accused of her death. Soon enough, the mother makes it her business to clear her son’s name.
Much like Memories of Murder, the film has a lot more of a slower pace than Joon-ho’s later films. The film strips back a lot of what Joon-ho is usually known for, including the black humour and social satire, as, although they are there (like, Memories of Murder, the film satirises the corrupt police system), they are less obvious. The film instead settles for more of a quiet, slow building character study that focuses on the title unnamed mother. Hye-ja is utterly brilliant in the lead, as she is able to capture the right mixture of being the quiet, strong figure in hopes of proving innocence for her son, while still remaining the small and emotional (and at the end, quite violent and shocking) breaks to her character. Her performance is very reminiscent of Frances McDormand’s performance in Three Billboards, released 2 years ago.
What Joon-ho really achieves in Mother is to strip down his auteurist quirks to just focus more on his film-making, and he really achieves that – he creates a quiet, sombre and really affecting character study drama that is utterly fantastic.
1. Parasite (2019)
Every Joon-ho film has their significance and relevance when discussing him and his filmography – Memories of Murder and The Host show his genre roots; Mother showcases his very character based film-making; Okja shows him at him trying to deal with a variety of tone and genres, and Snowpiercer shows his attempt at doing a mainstream blockbuster. However, talking about Parasite is so important because it feels as though he accomplishes all of these features all in one movie, and because of that reason, it is definitely his masterpiece.
The film follows the Kim family – consisting of father, Ki-taek, mother, Chung-sook; son, Ki-taek and daughter, Ki-jung – who are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. They all soon infiltrate themselves into the rich and upper class Park family household, all conning their way into getting jobs there. As they get further into their con, they face suspicion from the Parks’ housekeeper, Moon-gwang and the Parks themselves, including the father, Dong-ik.
Parasite’s release has become a defining moment in South Korean cinema, as it’s become a international success – it won Academy Award for Best Picture, becoming the first foreign language film to do so and has gained over 230 million at the box office, becoming Joon-ho’s biggest hit and one of South Korea’s highest grossing films. The key reason for it’s international success is probably down to the fact that it is a perfect movie, and never puts a foot wrong.
The film has some brilliant social satire, and like Snowpiercer, details the different lifestyles of both the rich and poor, critiquing the rich family’s exuberance. The script develops some beautifully realised characters, and this is brilliant as you could watch the film from the perspective of almost any character. This is ultimately why the film has had such universal appeal, as everyone, in any country, understands the themes on display.
The film, very much inspired by Hitchcock, is a ever-changing and evolving film, completely shifting gears half way through and turning into a completely different film. It changes from a black comedy to thriller/suspense to horror, and sometimes delving into genres like a ghost story and a heist film. However, Joon-ho is able to handle all these genre shifts with ease.
Parasite is utterly brilliant, and is largely Joon-ho’s magnum opus because it details him at the best in almost every avenue – in terms of mainstream, entertaining appeal, genre and tone shifts, developed characters, visual storytelling and social satire. Rightfully winning the Oscar for Best Director, with one movie, Joon-ho has shown himself to be one of the best directors working in film right now. And I wait to see what he does next.
This 2020, every Tuesday I will reviewing a horror film, and this week we have 2009’s Thirst
Park Chan-wook is one of the most prolific directors from South Korea still working today. Working for over the past 25 years, he has created both film and television projects and his work has ranged from a variety of different genres, including thriller, action, mystery, erotic drama, romantic comedy and – with his 2009 film, Thirst – horror.
Thirst, Chan-wook’s 7th feature, centres on Sang-hyun (played by Song Kang-ho), a Catholic priest, who volunteers to be a patient of the “Emmanuel Virus” but ends up transforming into a vampire after receiving from an unknown origin. Sang-hyan, a sensitive soul, struggles to cope with his new found lust for blood. Meanwhile, Sang-hyan reunites with his childhood friend, Kang-woo (Shin Ha-kyun) and meets his mother, Mrs. Ra (Kim Hoe-sook) and his unfulfilled and bored housewife wife, Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin).
Chan-wook is often held in high regard as one of South Korea’s most prolific and famous filmmakers, along with Bong Joon-ho, who has famously just won four Oscars for his work on the South Korean megahit, Parasite. Chan-wook takes the same approach to making his films as Joon-ho, often including black humour and some sudden genre and tonal shifts.
A good companion piece to Thirst, in fact, is The Handmaiden, his 2016 film. The Handmaiden is very much a chamber piece which centres around 4 main characters in a secure location, and our perspectives of them change drastically over the course of the film. This is very much a kin to Thirst, as it mainly centres on our two central characters of Sang-hyun and Tae-ju, and overtime, our views on them largely change. Sang-hyun, who starts off as sensitive and conflicted and then turns out to be more brutal and Tae-ju, who starts off as a quiet and sweet but bored housewife, shows herself to be more manipulative and ruthless.
Ok-bin and Sang-ho are also so brilliant in the two lead roles. Sang-ho, who has starred in a variety of both Chan-wook and Joon-ho’s films (recently starring in Parasite, which he was very much snubbed of a Oscar nomination), and continues to be one of South Korea’s most prolific actors. He is really terrific here, and gives the audience a relatable and sympathetic lead. Ok-bin is the real find here, however, and it’s even more astounding for her as, unlike Sang-ho, she was very young and un-experienced when it was filmed. She is utterly great here, as she really manages to play off all of Tae-ju’s ever-changing and developing personality.
The only real criticism with the whole film, however, would be that although Ok-bin is great and Tae-ju is a utterly fascinating character, Sang-ho’s Sang-hyeon ends up oddly sidelined. This is a shame, as Kang-ho remains as brilliant as ever, and Sang-hyeon is a great character, but his character arc ends up not being as polished as Tae-ju’s.
The real strength with the film, however, is how the film reinvigorates the vampire genre, in how it takes a melancholic and quite sad approach to it. It seems like some lesser films seem to focus on the all the joys of the lifestyle (like the immortality and the ever-lasting youth), this film emphasis more on Sang-hyeon’s loneliness and his classic dilemma of not wanting to drink human blood, but still have a huge craving for it.
The film also has a lot of body horror and gore, which is really welcome. This is especially true of the opening of the film, when Sang-hyeon is getting the virus, and there are many very gory scenes showing the effect on the disease. The body horror really gives the film an edge and a bit to it, but never sinks into being exploitative or nasty.
Much like a lot of Chan-wook’s films, the film has some great cinematography. Chan-wook is a very visual director, especially showcasing this in his 2013 film, Stoker, and this is also true here. This is particularly true of some wonderful sequences in which Sang-hyeon and Tae-ju are flying through the city, and the results are very strange, beautiful and mesmerising. Also, throughout the film, Chan-wook is really great at dealing with the more fantastical aspects of the script. The sequences were the various vampire characters fly or float off the ground have the right amount of silliness to it, but still feel grounded and quite real.
In conclusion, Chan-wook’s Hitchcockian film/ Vampire horror film hybrid is utterly strange, bonkers and really great, and continues Chan-wook’s legacy as one of South Korea’s best living filmmakers.
The most-talked about movie over the past 10 months has been Parasite. The South Korean film was awarded the Academy Award for Best Picture last week in a surprise result, beating out many other favourites, including 1917, Jojo Rabbit and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Not only that, but it has also revealed vast amounts of critical acclaim, a favourable audience response and been a box-office success (at the time of writing, gathering 204 million), becoming one of the highest-grossing South Korean films of all time.
The film has famously been very hard to discuss and hard about, as it’s very much a movie experienced completely cold. Much of the reason for this is because the film is very much an evolving and ever changing film – the film begins life as one type of film, and then mutates into something else. The general premise of the film is that it is centred on an unemployed and poor family of four, the Kim family, who all manage to lie and con their way into getting jobs at the lush, rich and upper class Park family household.
The first part of the film, the 50 minutes or so is a much more lighthearted affair. As each member of the Kim family get their job, the family’s schemes do get a little darker – both Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and Ki-jeong (Park So-dam) lie and scam in their job interview; then the family get the chauffeur fired by planting Ki-jeong’s underwear in his car, and finally, the family exploit the housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun)’s allergy to peaches by framing her to have tuberculosis, knowing she will most likely be fired. Although, the film is slowly and slowly getting darker at this point, the film is still an amusing, witty heist comedy that is about a much of flawed and morally-ambiguous but still likable and relatable group of anti-heroes.
Then, everything completely changes. After the successfully getting the mother, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) a job as the new housekeeper, it looks slightly that the rest of the film will be centred on the Park mother and father – Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) and Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun) discovering the family’s lies. The son, Da-song discusses that the family have a certain “smell” and all the family are sitting around in the Park house, enjoying their rich lifestyle, setting the perfect scene for the Park family to come home and discover them. This ends up not being the case, however as something else entirely awaits the Kim family, as is shown in a perfectly executed and utterly brilliant twist.
At this point in the film, as the Park family have gone away to go camping for Da-song’s birthday, the Kim family exploit their absence to briefly immerse in the upper class lifestyle. In one of the movie’s more quieter moments, the family are sitting around a table and talking. The scene is relatively quiet and calm, although this is a sudden thunder storm that begins in a brilliant bit of pathetic fallacy that foreshadows the future events of the film.
All of the sudden, a doorbell rings. The doorbell is especially important as it happens exactly half way through the film – it was apparently on page 73 of the film’s 144 page script, and this signifies the completely different new movie that is about to unfold. Soon enough, the family discover that the one ringing the doorbell is Moon-gwang, the former housekeeper, who has apparently “left something” in the basement underneath the kitchen.
Suddenly, the tone is very different – everything feels quite sinister and cold. Chung-sook asks the family what should she do, to which Ki-woo replies that this is “not in the plan”. This is especially important, as up until this point, the film has been playing out exactly how the Kim family have wanted it too. They have all got their jobs the way they planned, and they are enjoying the rich lifestyle the way they wished. Moon-gwang’s arrival, however, creates a curveball that none of them, including the audience, have expected. Jung-eon’s performance in this scene is really brilliant, particularly her occasional out-of-kilter laughing, which relates to the uneasy and cold atmosphere.
The family do let Moon-gwang into the house, and she makes her way downstairs to the basement. Before she goes, however, she and Chung-sook have an exchange, during which Moon-gwang quite sinisterly asks her if she would “like to come down with [her]”. This moment is all shot in a close-up of Moon-gwang’s face, and here, she is looking directly into the camera.
This technique is used throughout Parasite a lot, including a cut away to Moon-gwang and her husband’s past as she discuss their past at house, and the very last shot of Ki-woo looking into the camera after he has lost everything. This is also true of the rest of Joon-ho’s filmography – the 2003 film Memories of Murder, his first break-out hit, ends on the lead, Park (also played by Kang-ho) looking directly into the camera. The way in which Joon-ho uses it here, however, is a way of directly addressing the audience – he is asking the audience whether or not they want to come with the film on it’s new dark path. Also, the camera does not cut away from Moon-gwang in this moment, not even to cut back to see Chung-sook’s reaction. As she goes down into the basement, we see her disappear and descent into darkness, and the film descents into darkness along with her.
Chung-sook eventually goes downstairs to see what Moon-gwang is doing, we see that she is trying to move a cabinet in the basement. As she and Chung-sook are able to move it, we a given what the real twist of the film is – that Moon-gwang’s husband, Geun-sae (Park Myung-hoon) is underneath the basement in a secret bunker. He has been living there for over 4 years on the run from loan sharks, and Moon-gwang has been secretly feeding him over the years.
This twist is addressed in an utterly brilliant way – over the course of a 40-second sweeping panning shot, we follow Chung-sook through the corridors, only to discover the second basement at the end of it. The use of this panning shot shows the audience a clear outline of the basement, which is significant as it becomes very important later, but by doing all in one shot, does it in a quick, pacey and efficient away. Also, one of the most important to Parasite is the film’s production design, and by opening the door to the second basement, we are introduced to more a grimy, dirty setting with a lot of dark colours, as opposed to the grand, posh, and gorgeous setting of the Park household. As the characters descend into this world, we, as the audience, descend with them into a much darker, nasty and sinister movie.
This perfect 10 minute sequence, are an utterly brilliant and thoughtful way of revealing a twist. Not only that, it brilliantly prepares the audience for the new dark, sinister and unexpected film that they are about to watch, unlike the lighthearted and familiar one that they have previously been watching. Parasite is very much a film that has surprises, yet these surprises never feel out-of-place or strange in the context of the overall film. As he showcases in this film, Joon-ho is a brilliant craftsman, and this sequence is him at his very best.
It seems like every year there is a movie that comes out of nowhere to become one of – if not, the – most talked about movies of the year. Over the past few years, we have films like Roma (2018), Get Out (2017) and Moonlight (2016) that have fit that bill, and now, we have Parasite. The film has been taking the world by storm in the past year, not only winning awards left, right and centre, but also becoming a huge critical and audience favourite at the same time (gaining 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and becoming the highest rated film ever on the film social media site, Letterboxd). And, on Sunday night, the film made history by becoming the first foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and also took home 3 other Oscars, including Best Director.
The South Korean film written and directed by the maverick auteur, Bong Joon-ho (director of the brilliant Mother (2009) and Memories of Murder (2003)), the film is centred on the Kim family, a nuclear family of four, who are all unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. When the son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) gets a recommendation to tutor a young girl of the rick Park family, he lies about he credentials and gets the job. Soon enough, all of the other Kim family members infiltrate their way into the Park household through various different ways. There is much, much more to the film, but I don’t want to say anymore as anything else would just ruin it. Thankfully, unlike another Oscar favourite, 1917, the trailers for this film don’t spoil anything as this is a movie that is best experienced completely cold.
Going into watching this film, it’s very easy to say that this film completely lives up to the hype. It is just about as brilliant as everyone says it is – maybe even more so. It’s very rare that you leave a film without pretty much any flaws or complaints, in which the filmmaker never once puts a foot wrong. It has happened 3 times recently – first with Booksmart in last May, then with Knives Out in November, and now, with Parasite. Even some of the year’s most acclaimed films (like 1917 or The Irishman) are slightly flawed in some aspect. But, it never happens with Parasite – it is pretty much note-perfect film from beginning to end.
It’s always thrilling to see a filmmaker at the very top of his craft, and here, Joon-ho is at his very best. One of the most brilliant things about all of his films (from Memories of Murder (2003) to The Host (2006) to Snowpiercer (2013)) is how he plays with genre and tone. At the very start, Parasite begins life as a witty comedy, that oddly enough, dips into a heist film, as we see the Kim family ultimately pay a large con game to get themselves jobs in the Park household.
Then, all of a sudden, the film completely shifts. Very much in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (one of Joon-ho’s favourite films), Joon-ho plays the audience into thinking you are watching one type of film, and then shows the audience the real film that has been lying underneath the surface. I won’t say much about what happens, but I will say that after a particular doorbell ring (which takes place exactly half way into the film), in which the film re-positions itself from a comedy/heist film to a full-blown thriller, and sometimes even delving into horror, and then it’s large act, turns into an almost Shakespearean-like tragedy.
The film is able to pull off a lot of it’s tonal swifts and genre changes because the film has some really great film-making. The film is really thrillingly edited (done by Joon-ho’s Okja (2017) collaborator, Yang Jin-mo), there is a great montage about half way through, which is beautifully crafted and controlled. The montage, in question, gives the audience a lot of information and a lot happens, but it also moves the plot along in a series of concise shots. Joon-ho is a filmmaker who is obsessed with rhythm and pace, and he knows that in order to make his films’ big tonal swifts and genre changes to work he must make his films pacey and even a little bit fun, and he does this brilliantly in Parasite. The film’s music also largely contributes to giving the film a pace. The music – largely made up of classic music – is very grand and orchestral. It largely adds to the building suspense and tension, and ultimately gives the film a real rhythm and pace.
Also, Joon-ho brilliantly never wastes time in this film, and that is mainly because he is economic and sparring with his camera shots. There are many times during the film, where he doesn’t holds the audience’s hand through the narrative, and trusts that the audience will understand. In one of the film’s most iconic moments, the two Kim children, Ki-woo and Ki-jeong (Park So-dam) recount a mnemonic device that they have created to remember information – the song is brought up and never mentioned again, and Joon-ho trusts that we can just understand what it means and how important it is. It is so refreshing to see a film in which there is absolutely no filler, and every single shot has a relevance and importance, and that’s exactly what Parasite does.
The cinematography and the way the camera is used is also really beautiful here, including some really great gliding camera movements. The film has a real polish and sheen to it’s cinematography, and Joon-ho really makes a lot of story-telling very visual. It is very important for a film like this as it turns what could of felt like a small, self-contained stage play (which as Joon-ho states, it did begin life as) into a proper, cinematic movie.
What’s also great about the movie is how the film combines visual story-telling with a cracking (and now Oscar-winning) script. Co-written by Joon-ho and Hin Jin-won, the dialogue is very brisk and to the point, and like the film-making, does not waste time with unnecessary or exposition-heavy dialogue. The script also does a brilliant job at managing characters and all their individual arcs. For a film that has essentially 10 main characters (apart from the Park and Kim families, we are also introduced to the housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) and her husband (Park Myung-hoon)), each character feels incredibly fleshed-out and interesting. It almost feels as though the film could be re-told from the perspective of any of the other characters, and that’s exactly what you want from a film with a sprawling cast of characters. The editing also does a brilliant job at balancing all these character arcs. There is a sequence at the end of the film where all the story-lines converge in one big, bloody climax, and in this sequence, you can tell exactly where each character is and what their motivations are.
The film, like a lot of Joon-ho’s films, especially Snowpiercer and Okja, has some brilliant social satire. A lot Snowpiercer, the film is a brilliant satire about the differences between rich and poor and it raises some very interesting questions about whether we can truly escape our social status. What’s really brilliant about how the central Kim family are written, is that although, they lie and cheat their way to the top, they actually do fit into this upper class world – they are smart, intelligent and actually, quite brilliant sometimes. The film does the same thing that a movie like Get Out does recently, in which the film combines real, popcorn entertainment with some biting social satire about the state of the world at the moment.
The production design for the film is also really quite perfect. Taking place primarily in the Park household, the house is rich, lush and beautiful and almost feels like a Bond villain’s lair. But, the house also – very much like the film itself, in fact – keeps reveals things about itself and there are hidden places in the house which are very important to the narrative.
Ultimately, Parasite is really a perfect movie. It’s a movie that never puts a foot wrong, and never ever, goes down a wrong path. The film could almost feel like a stage play with it’s brilliant dialogue, characters and social satire, but it is also beautifully cinematic, with some great visual story-telling. This year, the Academy have really got it right, as they actually have awarded the Best Picture of the last year. The film is everything everyone says it is and more – it is amazing, fantastic, strange, bonkers, completely note-perfect and if you venture out to see it, it will probably be one of the best films you’ll ever see in your life.
If you are at all interested in films, or the film industry, you would likely have heard of Parasite. The South Korean black comedy thriller film directed and written by Bong Joon-ho has been taking the world by storm over the past year, and on Sunday night, the film made record-breaking history by winning Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards, becoming the first foreign language film to do so. Not only that, but the film also took away Best International Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director, the latter of which was a huge surprise with many predicting Sam Mendes would take that honour.
There is much, much to praise about the film, but one of the main reasons has to be the fantastic editing by Joon-ho’s Okja collaborator, Yang Jin-mo, who unfortunately was snubbed by the Academy for his brilliant work. One of the best examples of this is the famous “peach scene”, which already feels like an iconic and famous piece of cinema.
The scene in question takes place around the half way mark of the film. At this point in the story, the poor and unemployed Kim family, a nuclear family of four, have all (the exception of the mother, Chung-sook) infiltrated their way into the rich and upper class Park family, and are now looking for a way to get Chung-sook a job in the household. And all within the space of one beautifully crafted and controlled montage (which apparently consisted of 60 different shots all within just over 5 minutes), we see the Kim family create a carefully-conducted plan to get the Park family’s housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) fired by creating a lie that she has tuberculosis, knowing that Park matriach, Yeon-gyo will likely fire her, and then Chung-sook can take her place.
It has been stated by many that Parasite is very much a film of two halves, and has been described by Joon-ho as almost two movies in one. The first movie, takes place in the first 50 minutes or so, plays out almost like a heist film. It has a slow-building ease and tension to it, as we get to know all of our heroes in the form of the Kim family – consisting of father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), daughter, Ki-jeong (Park so-dam) and mother, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin). In a very similar style to a lot of films in the heist genre, the director takes us through their woes, and we start to feel sorry for them and their impoverished and poor lifestyle.
This montage ultimately feels like a climax to the heist film part of the film – it is a climax of the first movie. It is the moment at the end of Ocean’s Eleven when George Clooney and co pull off their impressive heist – we see the Kim family all get high-paying, successful jobs, and become the higher class individuals that they have always dreamt of being. However, that is only the first movie, and as the film continues into the second act, it turns into a completely different movie. Around the time of a doorbell ring (which takes place at the exact halfway point in the film), the film completely changes genre to a heist film into a tense thriller movie, with even some elements of horror.
The montage in question, however, details the Kim family attempting to make it look like Chung-sook has tuberculosis by exploiting her allergy to peaches, or more importantly, her allergy to peach fuzz. The art of the montage is very important to the film as it creates a particular rhythm and pace for the film. Joon-ho creating a rhythm and pace for his films is not uncommon (his 2013 film, Snowpiercer is a prime example of this), and he does this so he can make his movie flow a lot better. Therefore, he can pull off his various tonal swifts with complete ease – the film is already a weird heist film/ thriller hybrid, but combines various other genres from comedy to horror to almost Shakespearian-like tragedy.
As the montage starts of we see a series of seeming unconnected shots, from Ki-jeong walking past Moon-gwang to hot sauce being put of pizza to Ki-woo removing fuzz from a peach. All of these moments are threaded together through a voice-over, and a beautiful piece of music called “The Belt of Faith”, but they still feel strange and unconnected. As we get into the latter parts of the montage, all of these shots come back, and are revisited. These images beautifully mirror images at the end, and it almost feels as those the montage is having a conversation with itself. The montage has a balletic and hypnotic nature to it, and this helps Joon-ho create the pace he wants for the film.
After the opening few shots of the montage, however, the film cuts to Ki-taek confining with Yeon-gyo that Moon-gwang might have tuberculosis (after taking a picture of her at the doctor’s office). In a beautiful piece of cross-cutting, it cuts between this conversation to the whole family practising the conversation at home. This piece of cross-cutting is so essential as it shows the audience how detailed the family’s plan is, and just how much they want this plan to succeed.
In another piece of beautiful cross-cutting, we see Chung-sook cleaning on the floor, and when we cut back to this scene, all the family are sitting on the floor and relaxing. This is a beautifully crafted piece of editing as we understand that the family have been rehearsing and practising for such a long time. This is also so essential for the film as we understand how hard-working and dedicated the family are to making this plan work.
A big influence to Parasite is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (one of Joon-ho’s favourite films), and even more influential is how in the 1960 classic, Hitchcock makes us align with characters who have done terrible things. And that is exactly what Joon-ho does throughout Parasite, and particularly in this montage – he makes us relate and almost admire this family for just how detailed, brilliant and well-rehearsed their plan is, despite just how awful and horrible it is.
As we get into the later part of the montage, the last piece of the plan (or “the icing on the cake” as Ki-jeong calls it) is for Ki-taek to frame Moon-gwang for coughing up blood. This part is also edited in a thrilling way as behind Ki-taek is Yeon-gyo, and he must operate this without her noticing. And then – he pulls it off, and the plan goes off without any hitches. In the same way as is often the case with said heist films, the family have pulled of their said heist, and we, as the audience, are there celebrating with them.
Another wonderful thing about this montage, is how well-threaded it is with it’s wonderful music. “The Belt of Faith” is a wonderful classic piece of music that brilliantly accompanies the scene. As the tension mounts and mounts, and the stakes get higher and higher, the music becomes more and more dramatic, and like the montage, reaches it’s climax. The use of music is very important in a scene like this as it relates to creating a certain rhythm and pace for the montage.
Ultimately, one of the biggest triumphs of the film overall is how accessible the film is, which is probably the reason why the film has done so well overseas and at awards ceremonies. There is much to praise about the film – the film is all at once, a brilliant satire on class conflict, a thrilling and subversive puzzle box piece of cinema and a complicated family drama, but it is also entertaining as hell. Joon-ho, is someone who understands genre (addressing monster movie tropes in The Host (2006), action movie tropes in Snowpiercer and murder mystery tropes in Memories of Murder (2003)), and he is brilliant at making sure that his films are always fun and entertaining.
The “peach scene” montage is a perfect illustration of this, as it keeps the plot moving forward, but does so in a pacey, vibrant, and ultimately very fun way. Just an absolutely stunning piece of cinema from beginning to end.
Bojack Horseman has had such an odd trajectory as a television series. Debuting on Netflix in late 2014 in the same year as the second seasons of the then-Netflix juggernauts, Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, Bojack Horseman looked from the outset, to be a fairly amusing but ultimately forgettable adult animated comedy. However, over it’s seven years on the platform, it has transformed from a tiny, small series looking set to be cancelled in a few seasons to become one of – and possibly the – greatest animated series of all time.
The series focuses on the lives in Hollywoo (named so because the “d” had fallen down), including title character, Bojack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett), and his friends, Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) and Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul). Continuing on from the previous seasons, Bojack could possibly be getting comeuppance for his past actions as two reporters begins to investigate his various suspect behaviour.
Over the past 6 seasons, the show has always been very funny and witty, and these final 8 episodes of the series (released on Friday), are no exception. It manages to do this through it’s brilliant mocking of Hollywood and great pop culture references (one of the best from this season includes the line – “This situation is like a Christopher Nolan movie – woman are involved, but it’s really never about the women”), as well as it’s wonderful animal puns (this season includes a very quick joke about cats going up trees that’s very funny).
The really great thing about the series, however, is that it mixes its satire and humour with some really heartbreaking humanity (oddly enough, for a show primarily featuring anthropomorphic animals). This can sometimes extend into some downbeat, pessimistic and at times, outright depressing viewing, and it can be very hard to watch at times.
One of the central reasons of this is that the characters can be flawed, and at times, very unlikable. Although, from the outset, it looks like it is influenced by the classic adult animation series, The Simpsons and Archer, it has more in common than dark dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad (oddly enough as both star Aaron Paul), in it’s complicated, flawed, and anti-heroic lead characters.
The series also delves into all of the main characters’ tragic back-stories and upbringings, with Bojack feeling very much akin to Mad Men’s Don Draper in his heart-breaking childhood flashback to emotional abuse. However, the way in which the show is written never excuses Bojack or any of the other characters’ behaviour, but makes us understand them more.
One of the main reasons why it remains quite pessimistic viewing is that a lot of these characters never really grow or change. The series has flirted with characters arcs over the years, however, the show pulls back from showing that the characters actually change and develop. It does so in the season as we see Bojack attempt to change his life, becoming a acting teacher and helping young people learn to act, before he is brought back to his former ways of self-destructive and abusive behaviour. This can make for quite tiring viewing, but ultimately it does make it quite realistic. What’s great about the final episodes, however, it that they do flirt with some happier and more bittersweet endings for some characters, like Princess Carolyn, Todd and Diane.
The series has always been known for dealing with deep themes, and this season is no exception. This season continues to deal heavy themes, particularly mental illness and depression with both Bojack and Diane, and it is especially interesting this season seeing how Diane deals with anti-depressants, and how it changes her lifestyle.
This season also continues on do produce some stand-out singular episodes. The season (and by extension, the series)’s penultimate episode, “The View from Halfway Down” is the closest thing that the series comes to produce a perfect episode, as Bojack reunites with all his now deceased friends and family, and the episode showcases at it’s funny but melancholic best.
This season is also quite subversive in how it avoids complete closure. There are various plot threads that are left dangling and remain unanswered. The final few episodes avoid the usual television show cliche of various characters coming back for one farewell appearance – we never see old fan favourites like Bojack’s season 2 girlfriend Wanda, Princess Carolyn’s season 3 boyfriend, Ralph or Bojack’s season 5 co-worker, Gina ever again. It avoids closure to preach the final idea that sometimes in life, we don’t get complete closure, but we have to learn to live with it.
Overall, the final 8 episodes of Bojack Horseman really do deliver, and remain just as daringly brilliant and heartbreaking as usual. I’m sure that over the years, Bojack Horseman will remain just as popular and acclaimed, and will be held in high regard as one of Netflix’s best offerings and one of the best animated series of all time.
This 2020, every Tuesday I will reviewing a horror film, and this week we have 2007’s [rec].
After reviewing the older horror classic, 1961’s The Innocents last week, I returned to reviewing more modern horror movies this week, with 2007’s [rec]. Rec is a pivotal example of the found-footage horror genre, one of the most famous sub-genres inside the horror genre. Other examples include The Blair Witch Project (1996), often called the first proper example, Paranormal Activity (2007), Cloverfield (2008), and Lake Mungo (2010). Rec is often called one of the best and most loved of its genre.
Rec centres on Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), a reporter and her cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso) who are doing a report on a group of local firefighters. After a while of being bored, Angela and Pablo accompany two firefighters to a building complex after they get a call from a old woman who is trapped in her apartment. As they get there and we are introduced to the complex’s residents and other police, it is revealed that the complex has been part of an onslaught of a mysterious illness that is turning all the infected residents rabid. As, Angela, Paulo and all the other residents discover that the building has been sealed off to avoid an outbreak, they all attempt to escape, alive.
The film really succeeds because it feels very real and raw, and that has always been the biggest charm of found-footage genre. Although, it has been done to death over the years, when done well and done right, it can be very effective because it just make the whole situation feel very relatable and real.
This is also influenced by the various small details that the writers-directors, Jaume Balaguero and Paco Blaza employ to make it feel more real. There are numerous moments of the characters talking about often trivial and superficial things, and this adds to the realistic feeling. Also, the way in which various characters react to the pseudo-documentary format – for example, at one moment we see Pablo put his camera down at one moment, and a young girl play with it – also feels very real. We also see various characters get shy around the camera or try and fix their appearance when seeing it, and this carries on the realistic feeling.
Other than being a really great example of the found-footage genre, the film is a very well-paced horror film. The directors are very clever to place some breaks in there for the audience as otherwise the film would of been a non-stop and relentless horror film. At the start, we see Pablo and Angela sitting around and being bored, and this eases the audience into a real false sense of security, and gives the film a good way of building tension and unease. There is also a moment in the middle of the film, after the initial outbreak and shock, in which Angela interviews various residents of the complex. In this moment where the characters sit down and talk, it gives the audience a chance to get to know the characters, and a break from the bleak horror around us.
Unlike a lot of the horror films discussed on here, which often limit their jump-scares and settle for more subtle scares, this film does use jump-scares in plenty, but does it right. The jump-scares are done so that they are scary and viseral, and make you jump out of your seat. They make you feel scared about what will happen next, but never doing so in a way that feels cheap.
Also, what’s really scary about the film is – in the same vein as many infection/zombie movies – the humans are the real enemies. Also, the directors are very clever to take the Jaws approach with showing the monsters in this movie, as they don’t show them that much, and when they do, it is very effective and scary. One of the few mis-steps for me in this movie is the film’s ending, in which we see the monster in full (although, through night-vision googles, which very much gave me Silence of the Lambs vibes), and this ends up feeling quite un-effective as the monster just looks quite silly and strange.
The film owes a large debt to a lot of found-footage and monster movies that came before it. The biggest comparison is The Descent, which came out two years before, and deals with a group of people in a confined space dealing with a humanoid foe. Now, Rec does not have the depth of something like The Descent – it is more a substance-base exercise in horror, but a good one nonetheless.
Overall, Rec is a really great example of a modern found-footage horror movie. If you’re sick to death of all the Paranormal Activity’s, then be sure to watch this movie, because it really open you eyes to how great the found footage genre can be when done right.
Makoto Shinkai’s follow-up to Your Name is Weathering With You, a really lovely animation from Japan. Your Name was an extremely influential film, becoming the highest-grossing anime film and Japanese film of all time, and so his follow-up was always going to be highly anticipated.
The plot is set in an alternative reality of sorts in which Japan has been overtaken by a large onset of torrential rain. A young 16-year-old boy, Hodaka Morishima (voiced by Kotaro Diego originally, and Brandon Engman in the English dubbed version), runs away from home because he felt “suffocated” by his parents, and after a rough period, finds a place to live and employment with a writer, Keisuke Suga (Shun Oguri; Lee Pace). He begins to encounter a mysterious young girl, Hina Amano (Nana Mori; Ashley Boettcher), who reveals she has the ability to clear the sky and bring sunshine for a brief period by praying. Hodaka and Hina soon create a business where they will provide sunshine for anyone who needs it (Hina being called a “sunshine girl”), and in the process, fall in love.
This film was just so lovely from beginning to end. For starters, it has a really wonderful and innovative premise. It is a simple one, but one that really works, and plays out beautifully. The state of the world and how it could possibly be due to global warming also adds an element of political allegory to the film.
The characters are also really lovely. Hodaka and Hina are really interesting teenage characters who feel very relatable and accessible. The film also has some great supporting characters, including Keisuke and his co-corker, Natsumi Suga (Tsubana Honda; Alison Brie), who give some wonderful comic relief to the film.
The animation is also really, really beautiful. There is some wonderful landscape and scenery to chew on. The film has a bright and eclectic colour palette, that feels reminiscent of sci-fi films like Blade Runner (1982), and this and it’s landscapes give the film a futuristic feeling, that contributes to it’s alternate reality setting.
The central love story between the characters is really interesting, but unlike some romance films, the film never loses its stakes, and there still feels like there is a sense of jeopardy involved with the characters. But at the same time, it never loses it’s sense of humour or fun tone.
The only criticism I’d label at the film is that it’s a little too long, and there is a moment near the end where the film drags slightly.
But Weathering With You remains a really cute, lovely and beautifully animated film. It probably won’t be playing in that many theatres, but you should really branch out to see it because it’s just lovely.
This 2020, every Tuesday I will reviewing a horror film, and this week we have 1961’s The Innocents.
This week marks the first time I have reviewed a film for Horror Tuesday that was not made in the 21st century. It makes the first time that I have reviewed a properly, old-fashioned black-and-white horror film. It also marks the first time I have reviewed a film that is often called “important”, and has been called a major influence on a variety of horror films, including The Orphanage, which I reviewed two weeks ago.
The film is one of the many adaptations of the 1898 horror novella, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. One of the most recent adaptation include the 2019 film, The Turning, starring Mackenzie Davis and Finn Wolfhard, and it has been announced that it will be the basis of the second season of the brilliant Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House, to be released in 2020.
The plot revolves around Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), who applies for a job as a governess, for a wealthy bachelor, who wants Gibbens to look after his niece, Flora, so he can carry with his bachelor lifestyle. Meanwhile, his nephew, Miles is currently away at boarding school. Giddens is given the job, and develops friendships with Flora and the housekeeper, Mrs. Goose (Megs Jenkins) but things start to turn sour when Miles returns after being expelled for being a “bad influence” on his peers. Soon enough, she starts to become suspicious of the strange behaviour of the children (or “the innocents”, as she calls them), and is irked by the news that two of the house’s former employees (including the former governess) had died under previous circumstances.
The film remains such an important horror film, and such a classic to this day is the brilliant atmosphere and mood that the film creates. Much in the same way as a lot of ghost house horror films (including The Orphanage), the film trades cheap “jump-scares” for more of a slow-building sense of tension and dread that builds throughout the film.
One of the many ways that the movie does this is from the performances all across the board. Kerr is very impressive, especially because, in a similar way to many performances in horror films, she is mainly reacting to something or being terrified, but she never makes that feel one-note or over-the-top. Who is most impressive, however, is the performances from the children – Martin Stephens (who plays Miles) and Pamela Franklin (Flora), who brilliantly perform on that line of being cute but also creepy.
What is often most discussed about this film, however, is how influential it is in terms of film-making. One of it’s most significant techniques is it’s use of deep focus, which is where a shot features two characters and the audience can clearly see both of them clearly in the shot. This sort of technique is used in a variety of horror films, both classic (like The Shining (1980) and Rosemary’s Baby (1969)), and recent (like Us (2019), The Perfection (2019) and It Follows (2014)).
This technique, mainly because it does not end up using a lot of editing, creates a very slow and tense atmosphere, and this is probably why it is used in a lot of horror films. The director has also said that this technique is effective because it creates a sense of claustrophobia, as we can see both characters squished together in the same frame.
Another important technique that the film uses is the film’s editing. The film uses a lot of dramatic fades – one of the most dramatic uses of this is an early scene when Flora is smiling in a sinister fashion and it fades to Kerr’s face, and this also contributes to the film’s surreal and tense atmosphere. The film’s fade editing is also used effectively in a sequence where Gibbons is sleeping, and the camera cuts to a variety of images, including the children, and some sinister things happening in the house. This use of editing felt strange, intoxicating, and of course, very innovative (even for a film released in the 60s), and continues to contribute to the film’s surreal atmosphere.
Although, the film is more of a gentle, subtle and creepy horror film, the film does not shy away from proper, real scares at times. Two of the biggest scares include a former employee of the house, Peter Quint (played with brilliant menace by Michael Redgave) that suddenly turns up out of the blue, and surely terrifies the audience. The great thing about these scares, however, is that it skewered the “quiet, quiet, bang” rhythm of many scary scenes in certain movies and trusts the audience to play attention and get it.
Overall, The Innocents remains a really brilliant and wonderful horror film that completely holds up today, and you can see how influential it’s film-making is to the horror genre and films overall.
After the Stranger Things-free 2018, Netflix were after a new huge smash hit that appealed to it’s young audience, and then arrived the brilliant Sex Education over a year ago. Much like Stranger Things, the show gained a word-of-mouth success, and soon became a hit with viewers – so much so that when Netflix announced it’s most viewed Netflix Original TV shows of all time, it ranked very high at number 5.
The first season of the show starred Asa Butterfield as six former, Otis Milburn (played by Asa Butterfield), whose mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson) is a sex therapist, and he begins to run a sex clinic at school to help with various queries for all the teenagers, with the help of his best friend, Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa) and the weird loner, Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey). This season focuses on the Otis’s relationship with Ola (Patricia Allison), as well as his leftover feelings for Maeve, who in turn deals with breaking up with Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) and her own feelings for Otis. Meanwhile, this season continues to flesh out various supporting characters, including Jean, Eric, Jackson, Ola, and other six-formers.
Continuing on from the break-out success of the first season could be very nerve-wracking, but this second season feels just as confident as ever, starting off with a crazy montage of the now sexually-awakened Otis masturbating continuously in a variety inappropriate locations (like in a school assembly and in the car while his mother is shopping, for instance). And, what’s really great about the show (among many things), is that it always discusses sex is a very honest and open way. Sometimes, teen dramas can think that they are being very ground-breaking in their approach to sex, but actually just come across as preachy and melodramatic. However, Sex Education never feels like that – it always feels open, honest and actually, quite ground-breaking in it’s own way.
The film also discusses a variety of issues and themes, a lot more and different from the previous season. In one of the most heartbreaking story-lines from the show, we see the lively and bubbly character, Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood) being sexually assaulted on the bus. The story-line is remarkable in how real it feels – at first, Aimee is in denial and thinks it is nothing (she’s more concerned about the stain on her jeans), but then it really starts to affect her – she can’t go on the bus, and can’t really go anywhere without seeing her assaulter. It is extremely hard-hitting seeing the really bright and warm-hearted character turn into a shell of her former self, affecting her relationships with her friends and boyfriend. This story-line was really the show at it’s wonderful and hard-hitting best.
This season also continues on the conversation of various characters’ sexuality, including the show’s gay and bisexual characters and this time also covering asexuality and pan-sexuality. The central friendship between Eric and Otis is notable for being a positive representation of a friendship between a straight guy and a gay guy that is still very pleasant, entertaining and actually, quite unusual.
Also, although, the show is a teen drama and primarily focuses on teenagers, the show also includes some interesting older characters, especially that of Gillian Anderson’s Jean, and though her, we see what it’s like for an older woman in her 50’s to begin romance and go through heart-break.
The show also effectively fleshes out a variety of the show’s supporting characters, especially the ones who were a bit boring or flat-out unlikable in the first season. The best example of the former is the development of Adam Groff (played by Connor Swindells), the former high school bully, who last season, bullied the openly gay Eric, before going on to kiss him. After being expelled from school and an unsuccessful stint at military camp, he returns and through a lovely unexpected friendship with Ola, and standing up for himself against his father, he evolves from a one-note, and very unlikable character into a really charming one. It’s also really lovely to see Swindells get to show his comedic abilities and timing.
In addition, the show also fleshes out Jackson in a very interesting way. The character was at the forefront last season with his turbulent relationship with Maeve being heavily featured. Last season, however, he always felt quite uninteresting and dull. However, this season, as we see him being pushed to the edge from stress of his swimming career, and deliberately physically injure himself, the character starts to become very interesting. Through a tutoring, and eventual friendship with straight A student, Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu) and a deep dive into his mental health issues, he involves from the stereotypical jock character into a more complex and interesting character. In the style of obvious influence, John Hughes, the shows makes a point of giving us stereotypical teen characters (like the jock, the bully, the weird loner girl, the awkward guy), but then subverting those stereotypes, to create really interesting characters.
The performances from all the characters also remain really great and charismatic. The former child actor, Butterfield continues to impress, with his really wonderful awkward comedic timing, while still giving him some depth. Anderson is great as she leads the older cast members, and virtually everyone else is impressive, including, Swindells, Gatwa, Mackey and Williams-Stirling. Wood also rises to the challenge of performing her sexual assault storyline, and doing so brilliantly.
The downsides of the season is that the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Otis and Maeve continues, and this becomes a little contrived and tiresome at times, particularly towards the end. Also, it’s a shame that this season dropped certain interesting story-lines, including Eric’s complex relationship with his father, and Jackson and Maeve’s relationship.
However, Sex Education remains one of the funniest, wittiest and best Netflix Original TV shows, and probably, the best teenage/ coming of age TV drama around at the moment.
This 2020, every Tuesday I will reviewing a horror film, and this week we have 2016’s The Wailing
The Wailing is a very odd film, to say the least. Although it is mainly rooted in horror, the film also finds itself in many genres, including mystery, supernatural, thriller, suspense, and most strangely, at times comedy. It makes a odd third feature film for Na Hong-jin, who up until this point, had not tapped into the horror genre, with his first two action/thriller feature films, The Chaser (2008) and The Yellow Sea (2010).
The plot centres on Jong-goo (played by Kwak Do-won), a policeman living in Gokseong, a rural village in the mountains of South Korea. He lives with his mother, his wife, and their young daughter, Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee). He begins to investigate a series of deaths by various villagers, who are killed by a mysterious disease that spreads throughout the village. When Hyo-jin becomes infected with the disease, Jong-goo makes it his mission to save her, including tracking down shaman, Il-gwang (Hwang Jung-min), and having various mysterious encounters with a “stranger” (Jun Kunimara) and a “woman in white”, Moo-wyung (Chun Woo-hee).
The first thing to say about this film it that it does have quite an imposing length. Running over 2 and a half hours, the film is remarkably long for a horror film, a genre which is often at it’s best when being short, lean and to the point. There is a valid criticism to make about this film that not only is it too long, but it can also be quite indulgent and wandering.
This is particularly true of the first hour or so, which is less horror-orientated, and is more of a standard police procedural, in the same vein of the terrific South Korean thriller, Memories or Murder (2003). There are certain sequences in this segment, particularly the parts of Jong-joo tracking down the shaman, that do feel a little long and not as tightly put together. That being said, the opening is still important to establishing a mood and atmosphere for the film. It immediately makes the film supremely creepy, suspenseful and chilling, a feeling that only mounts as the film progresses.
The film really, really hits its stride after the first hour or so. This is around the time Hyo-jin becomes infected with the illness, which is by far the most interesting plot point from the film. This part, clearly influenced by various child-possession films (especially The Exoricst) details not just a normal virus in making her physically sick, but also effecting her personality as well. As we see Hyo-jin get rashes and be sick from her illness, we also see her disturbingly scream and shout expletives at her father, which is really quite horrifying to watch.
In addition, this plot point is very well set up by the beginning – there is a great sequence where Hyo-jin catches her father cheating, and uses his to blackmail him into giving her toys – and this is used a very clever way of setting up their relationship, as well as foreshadowing later events. The success of this part is really owned to Kim Hwan-hee’s performance. The young actress would of been in her early teens at the time, is very dedicated, committed, and honestly, very scary as the young girl who is possessed.
There is a really mounting tension that carries on throughout the film, and this carries on to the last act, where things get, well, really rather weird. There is extended sequence in the middle which cross cuts between Shaman performing a ritual, The Stranger performing his own ritual, and Hyo-jin kneeling over in pain, which remains completely bonkers and nuts.
Near the actual end, however, is when things get very twisty and turny. The film subverts expectations, and gives numerous twists, and has a very ballsy, surprising, and also, quite downbeat conclusion.
The end result is at times, quite indulgent, but always, strange, surreal, mesmerising and interesting. Despite tapping into multiple genres, this film still feels like a terrifying horror film through and through, and one that horror fans, although might take a little getting use, will still purely love.
This 2020, every Tuesday I will reviewing a horror film, and this week we have 2007’s The Orphanage.
The Orphanage has always been a horror film that I’ve been meaning to watch, but have never got around to it. It has appeared on some “Best Horror Films” lists, but somehow still seems underrated and seems to lack the iconic status of many beloved horror films. This is probably down to it’s fairly recent release, coming out only 12 years ago.
The critically acclaimed film is centred around Laura (portrayed by Belen Rueda), who moves into the former orphanage where she grew up in hopes to turn it into a home for disabled children. She moves in with her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their troublesome adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep). Laura and Simon’s relationship is strained, and after an argument between the pair, Simon mysteriously goes missing and Laura becomes determined to find him. Meanwhile, Laura begins to notice a bunch of mysterious occurrences around the orphanage – including some strange noises and the appearance of a young child with a sack on his head (one of the film’s most arresting and iconic images).
The film is notable for being the debut feature for J. A. Bayona, who has since gone to create the disaster drama, The Impossible (2012) and the dark fantasy drama, A Monster Calls (2016), before directing the big blockbuster movie, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), going on to be his biggest commercial hit, gaining over 1 billion at the box office.
This is very much like Bayona’s other films in that the film contains with children. Much like Tom Holland’s appearance in The Impossible, Lewis MacDougall’s lead performance in A Monster Calls, and the appearance by Isabella Sermon in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, this film puts it’s young star, Princep in a leading role here. The real strength here is that Bayona is not afraid to put Princep front and centre, and give him a lot of dramatic scenes, and he gives a really great performance.
But the real star here is the absolutely wonderful Belen Rueda. Her performances was reminiscent of that of Essie Davis in another fairly recent horror film, The Babadook (2014) in how it shows a detailed depiction of a mother, who sometimes hard to sympathise with and who does things that the audience don’t like (like at one point slapping her son), but she always finds a way into the character for the audience. She commands the screen with absolute charisma and gravitas, and although, it would seem very unlikely (for being a foreign language horror film), should of got a Oscar nomination back in 2008.
It seems like the reason why the film seems quite underrated is possibly partly due to it’s unfortunate comparison to the iconic dark fantasy film, Pan’s Labyrinth, released one year before this film – in how both films originate from Spain, they centre on a young child, and also because Pan’s Labyrinth’s director, Guillermo del Toro executive produced this movie. The comparison seems rather unfair because the two films are rather different beasts – Pan’s Labyrinth is a fantasy drama with dark and depressing undertones, while The Orphanage is more a chilling and haunting ghost story. The comparisons that I would make for the film are films like The Others (2001) and Poltergiest (1982), which are also very chilling ghost stories, or The Omen (1976) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) which also centres on troublesome young children.
Also much like those films, the film is brilliantly creepy, suspenseful and thrilling, and never settles for just cheap scares. Sometimes, when horror films are described as not being centred on “jump-scares”, they can sometimes in fact go the opposite way, and be slightly boring, however, this never happens with The Orphanage. It has some wonderful scares – particularly one involving knocks on a door – which are very effective and scary, and a great sense of mounting dread and suspense, which peaks in the final scene.
Additionally, the film is like those films because it still has a very strong story at it’s core. It’s not just about the horror – the film remains a really haunting and realistic portrayal of a mother and son relationship, and a fragile and on the edge mother, who would do anything for son. Also, unlike some horror films, the film doesn’t put it’s central characters in situations where they do unrealistic things. The film always remains true to the characters’ original characterisations, and always relies on true emotion.
Sometimes, the film has moments of feeling a little tonally out of balance – there is one particular moment at the beginning that feels quite darkly funny and has a lot of slapstick humour, which feels very strange and out of nowhere. Also, there is a particular plot point – that involving Montserrat Carulla’s Benigna Escobeda – that never quite clicks and falls into place completely.
However, The Orphanage remains a real threat – it is haunting, chilling and just really great. I’m so glad I finally got around to watching it, because I had a great time, and I can’t wait to see what else Bayona does with his career.
One of the year’s most anticipated films of the year, Sam Mendes’s 1917 has arrived in cinemas this week in the UK. On the back of it’s release, the film has gained 10 nominations at this year’s Academy Awards (the joint second most nominations of the year) and 9 nominations at the BAFTA Film Awards and also won Best Picture and Best Director at the Golden Globe Awards earlier this year. So… there was a hell of a lot of hype going into see this film.
And, for the most part, it lives up to the hype. Being Mendes’s writing debut, the film is based of Mendes’s grandfather’s real life experiences in the World War 1. The plot centres on two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), who are given a mission to hand-deliver a message to another Battalion, which orders them to call off an attack on German forces. However, they must travel through dangerous and life-threatening landscapes in order to get the message there safely.
Much has been discussed about how it seems as though the film is all done in one continuous shot. This is not necessary true – there is one obvious cut and there are a lot more cuts that are made to seem invisible – but overall, it has sensation of feeling like it is all done in one shot. The film follows suit of various audacious films, with the most famous examples including Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rope (1948) and the 2014 Best Picture winner, Birdman. Sometimes, these type of films can work or they can fail, but for the most part, 1917 really works.
One of the main reasons for the film’s success is the stunning cinematography by the fantastic Roger Deakins. Over his almost 40 years in the film business, Deakins has made a name for himself for being probably the greatest cinematographer working today. He has lend his hand to some fantastic films over the years, and has worked with various high-profile directors, including the Coen brothers (with Fargo, No Country for Old Men and True Grit), Denis Villeneuve (with Sicario, Blade Runner 2049 and Prisoners), and this time, reunites with Mendes after working with him on Revolutionary Road (2008) and the bond film, Skyfall (2012).
His work throughout this film is equally as fantastic, where the cinematography remains as stunning, gorgeous and very creative as all his other work. One of the best shots from the film is a night-time landscape of ruins, which will now and then, become illuminated by various flares and bombs going off in the background. It’s these sort of shots that make the film extremely dazzling and beautiful, but still reflect the true horror of war. It is by far the best cinematography I’ve seen for a movie all year, and Deakins should and probably will, win his second (yes, that right, he’s only previously won one award) Oscar for his work.
The film also largely succeeds because of the brilliant direction by Mendes. The director, who has done equal work on film (with various critically acclaimed films such as American Beauty (1999), Road to Perdition (2002) and Skyfall) and theatre, uses his theatre background here, in what I can imagine, must have needed a lot of rehearsal time to make sure that these long shots (with the reportedly longest time being 8 minutes long) don’t go wrong.
Some of the most brilliant shots of the film include a shot tracking Schofield run, unarmed, through a dangerous battlefield, as well as a tense shot of a plane crashing near the two leads of which they have to run and hide from. The only problem is that a lot of these brilliant shots have already been ruined by the trailers. So if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, don’t watch them before watching the film.
The skill with Mendes’s direction is that it’s very fast-paced and brisk. The problem with some one-take films they can lack a sense of tension and urgency, however, this never happens here – it is a tension-filled, adrenaline ride from near the beginning to the very end, which is only made worse by it’s real time, race against the clock conceit. The tension is also aided by the brilliant score by the always reliable Thomas Newman, which, while not being too powerful, largely creates a suspenseful and thrilling atmosphere.
Mendes’s script is also quite impressive, especially for a first-time screenwriter. The dialogue is few and far between, as Mendes here wants to create a purely cinematic movie (which he is very successful at doing), but when there is dialogue, it is very natural dialogue between Schofield and Blake that establishes a truthful, realistic and honest relationship between the two young men. The film also has some really emotional, funny and surreal moments, including a strange moment when Schofield stops by a band of singing soldiers, and a moment where Schofield has a heartfelt exchange with a young woman and her adopted baby in the midst of all the war. It’s these sort of moments that ease the tension slightly, while still not ruining the pace altogether.
The two lead performances by MacKay and Chapman, are very good, only made more impressive by how young the pair are. MacKay has been a rising star for many years now (including appearances in the films, Pride (2014), Captain Fantastic (2016) and Marrowbone (2018)), but Chapman feels feels pretty much new on the scene (however, he did have a big role in Game of Thrones). If this film is anything to go by, they will soon be stars in the future. The pair’s mostly unknown status also largely fits well in the film as they can be the everyman that the audience can easily engage with. While MacKay and Chapman centrally lead the film, there are many cameo appearances by bigger, more well-known actors, like Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch, which are all real pleasure to see.
The only downside to the film is that sometimes the film lacks real emotion. The two lead actors are great, but the film just lacks a bit of in-depth characterisation, particularly Schofield – we don’t know anything about him or his background. This is largely due to the constraints of it’s single take format as the characters cannot really grow and change that much over the course of a few hours. The script from Mendes is very good, but – on his next scripts, maybe – he could just add a little more depth.
However, this is slightly nitpicking as overall this is one of the best films of the year. Although, I am rooting the mesmerising and brilliant Parasite for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars (it would be great to see The Irishman or Little Women win, though), 1917 would be a perfectly fine film to win. A real triumph for Mendes, indeed.
The 92nd Academy Award nominations are being announced on Monday, and almost immediately, suspect some snubs and pleasant surprises for everyone (including me) to praise and criticise. While films like Parasite, The Irishman, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and 1917 are all guaranteed success, and other films, like Little Women, Ford v. Ferrari, Joker and Jojo Rabbit could possibly do very well, there are many other great films that will most likely be snubbed on Monday. There, I go through the nominations that most likely won’t happen, but should happen.
Booksmart – Best Picture, Best Director & Best Original Screenplay
One of 2019’s best films, Booksmart has still managed to feel quite underappreciated. It is quite possibly the best directed comedy of last year, in which Olivia Wilde directs the film with an wonderful zippy energy, and you can see the passion coming off the screen. The film also wouldn’t work without it’s wonderful script which combines some hilarious comedy and one-liners with an emotional theft underneath. It would be great to see that nominated also, but it seems unlikely (although Bridesmaids did get nominated back in 2011, so maybe).
Considering the film came out in May, it will properly be forgotten about around Awards nominations time in January, but it would be wonderful to see it nominated.
Knives Out – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay & Best Production Design
Rian Johnson’s Knives Out was my favourite film of 2019. It is somehow clever, witty, funny and exhilarating all at once. It wouldn’t work without it’s fabulous script, which manages to subvert and critique whodunit/mystery tropes, while still having an emotional heart underneath. Also, much like Booksmart, the film is directed with an real energy and love. The production design is also fantastic – the set of the central Thrombey house brilliantly recreates the classic sets of the classic mystery-whodunnit films.
However, because of the Academy’s aversion to genre films (including whodunnit/ mystery films), the film will probably leave completely empty-handed.
Us – Best Actress (Lupita Nyong’o) & Best Original Score
Us is one of the best horror films of last year. Much like the director, Jordan Peele’s previous film, Get Out, the film largely sticks together because of the terrific central performance. Here, the already Oscar favourite Lupita Nyong’o (winning an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave in 2013) manages to brilliantly capture two distinct characters – the bitter, terrifying and vengeful Red and the scared and smart Adelaide. Also, the musical score is absolutely terrifying and manages to invoke a real suspenseful atmosphere (also, bonus points for turning Luniz’s I Got 5 On It into a song that sends shivers down your spine).
However, often the Academy snubs horror films and considering Us is a much stranger, nastier and less mainstream film to Get Out, the film will probably not get any nominations. A shame, because it is one of the year’s best.
Klaus – Best Animated Feature
Netflix will probably be dominating the awards nominations with films like Marriage Story and The Irishman, but another Netflix original that should be nominated is the animated film, Klaus. It’s cute, sweet and really lovely and was on my top 10 list for this year. However, with the category already overflowing with wonderful animated features (like Toy Story 4, I Lost My Body, How to Train Your Dragon 3, Frozen II and the surprise Golden Globe winner, Missing Link), and considering how unfairly underrated this film was, it will probably be snubbed.
Parasite – Acting awards for all the performances
Parasite is not just one of the best films of the awards season, but one of the best films I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s extremely exhilarating and exciting, whilst remaining a brilliant satire on class prejudice and capitalist greed. After setting the world on fire with huge critical acclaim and surprise box office success, it seems highly likely that it will win Best International Film and get nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and probably, some technical categories.
However, unfortunately, it will be likely snubbed in it’s acting categories, probably due to the large cast ensemble. However, it would be lovely to see various cast members, including Song Kang-ho for Best Actor; Choi Woo-shik or Lee Sun-kyun for Best Supporting Actor or Chang Hyae-jin, Park so-dam or Cho Yeo-jeong for Best Supporting Actress. Kang-ho is probably the most likely (although, in all likelihood, it will be in Best Supporting Actor than Best Actor), but they will all be snubbed most likely. It’s a real shame because everyone is so great.
Jojo Rabbit – Best Supporting Actress (Scarlett Johansson)
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise because Jojo Rabbit is utterly wonderful – it’s hilarious and heartfelt and just great. Despite the divisive consensus by critics (which I don’t happen to agree with), it hasn’t ruined it’s Oscar hype and will probably walk away with nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay at the very least.
However, possibly the best aspect of the most is the mesmerising supporting performance by Scarlett Johansson. It would lovely to see her nominated, however, it’s very unlikely we see actors get nominated twice in the same year and because Johansson will already be nominated for her performance in Marriage Story (which is equally as great), we could see her performance in this unfortunately snubbed.
This 2020, every Tuesday I will reviewing a horror film, and this week we have 2006’s The Host.
2019 has been a hell of a year for director, Bong Joon-ho. The South Korean director has been making films since 2000 with his debut Barking Dogs Never Bite, and has become one of the biggest South Korean directors around with films that include Memories of Murder (2003), Mother (2009), Snowpiercer (2013), Okja (2017) and of course, Parasite (2019). The latter of which has famously become one of the most critically acclaimed films of recent years, appearing (often near the top) of various best of 2019 and best of decade lists by critics, went on win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and there have been buzz circling that it could be the first foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
Before all of that, however, 13 years prior, Joon-ho made the monster movie, The Host (2006). The plot stars Song Kang-ho as Gang-du, a goofy, clumsy guy who runs a small snack-bar with his father (Byun Hee-bong) and has a young daughter, Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung). Soon, tragedy strikes when a huge creature emerges from the Han river and begins attacking, killing, eating and kidnapping people, including Hyun-seo, leaving Gang-du devastated. Believing that Hyun-seo is still alive, Gang-du makes his mission to find her, with help from his brother, Nam-il (Park Hae-il) and sister, Nam-joo (Bae Noo Na)
Something that Joon-ho is not afraid to do is to tip into genre film-making. He has done so with most of his films in a way that, while a lot of them deal with heavy themes (Parasite for example, deals with class prejudice and capitalistic greed), often make them very fun and entertaining crowd-pleasers. Here, The Host is a monster movie and creature feature in sometimes a very pure way – it centres on a goofy hero who, over the course of the movie, matures and becomes a better person (in the vein of Simon Pegg’s titular hero in Shaun of the Dead (2004)) and often includes various sequences of people running scared from the titular monster in the vein of monster movies like Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Godzilla (1954) and Jaws (1975)
However, much like a lot of his work, the film balances a lot of different genres, including black comedy, family drama and social satire. The black humour is very successful here, particularly in a scene after the first creature attack where all the family over-dramatically wail on the floor in grief at Hyun-seo’s (apparent) death. The social satire here is also very well-drawn and successful. It is quite similar to Okja in how the film details what happens to the environment when humanity is hapless and not sensitive.
The film, however, really succeeds because of the family drama and relationship drama. The relationship between Gang-du and Hyun-seo in the film is very well-drawn and interesting, as is the various relationships between various family members. The film also gives all of the characters rounded arcs, and in a very Joon-ho way, the characters are stereotypes that subvert them over the course of the film – Nam-il is a smart, pretentious college graduate that is actually an emotional distressed alcoholic; Nam-joo is a sophisticated and famous archer that is actually nervous and self-sabotaging and Gang-du is a clumsy misfit that turns out to be brave and heroic. In contrast to some monster movies to come out recently (like Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)), the film takes real care and gives real depth to it’s main characters, and still manages to feel like an intelligent, personal movie.
The only problem with the film is that is not that scary. The monster itself is not that terrifying, unlike the central monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon. Also, the film seems to be a little confused as whether to take the film-making approach in not showing the monster as a was of building tension, in the same vein as Jaws, or showing the monster in full to scare the viewer, in the same vein as The Thing (1982). The end result is that sometimes the monster is on screen, and sometimes not, and this all feels a little uneven. Also, it seems like they would of been benefited from not showing it, because the design is not that terrifying.
Joon-ho might be the auteur of 2020 for me – I am still to watch his first two films and Mother and I honestly can’t wait to watch them. Parasite is honestly one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time, and although, I’ve only seen it once, it’s probably one of the best films I’ve ever seen in my life. However, The Host still remains a complete triumph for Bong Joon-ho. It is a fun, entertaining monster movie that still manages to feel like a small personal movie from him. It was really terrific.
There have been some fantastic television this year. Television cultural phenomenons like Game of Thrones and The Big Bang Theory ended this year, as did other critically acclaimed television shows like Veep, Broad City, Orange is the New Black and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Meanwhile, television shows that recently premiered this year, like The Mandalorian and The Witcher, are already on their way to becoming cultural phenomenons.
There are my 15 best television shows of the year:
Firstly, some honourable mentions include Bojack Horseman (part 1 of season 6), Catastrophe (season 4), Dead to Me (season 1), The End of the F***ing World (season 2), Good Omens, Killing Eve (season 2), Mindhunter (season 2) and Santa Clarita Diet (season 3)
15: Rick and Morty, season 4
Dan Harmon continues to be the king of cult television (after Community), with the fourth season of Rick and Morty. Despite taking over two years to produce this season, it well worth the wait as the show remains as wonderful as ever. Although only five episodes have aired, hopefully they keep up the standard for the remaining five episodes.
14. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, season 4
As someone who has been a die-hard fan of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ever since it dropped on Netflix in the UK in 2016, it almost pains me that this is only number 14 on the list, and that is mainly because this season felt a bit like an extended epilogue to the series (also, it didn’t need to be 18 episodes long) and the show slightly peaked in it’s devastating and emotional season 3. However, with the show’s unique mix of musical comedy, relationship drama, and heartbreaking truth about mental health, the show proceeds to be as terrific with its final season. Also, as always, this season boasts some terrific songs (from “Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal” to “Don’t Be a Lawyer” to “The Darkness” to “Slow Motion”) and some great performances (particular by Bloom and Donna Lynne Champlin).
As an advocate for this show for the longest time, hopefully give it another 10 years, and this show will be a cult classic, in the same vein as Arrested Development and Community.
13. Barry, season 2
Barry could be the closest thing we have to be a successor to Breaking Bad, in how it features a central anti-hero character that, despite the terrible things he has done, manages to remain sympathetic with the show’s wonderful writing and powerful lead performance by Bill Hader. By combining pathos, black comedy, heart-breaking drama and wonderful supporting performances (by Henry Winkler and Sarah Goldberg), this show is one to watch, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
12. Veep, season 7
In case you were one of the few who didn’t know, Game of Thrones ended it’s 8-season run this year in, ahem, divisive (and that’s being kind to it) ways. Meanwhile, at the exact same time, another long-running HBO show, Veep ended on a pretty much perfect note. Julia Louis Dreyfus, who portrays lead, Selina Meyer, remains as electric as ever, and has some of the best comic timing by any actor I’ve ever seen. Also, unlike the lead female heroine, Daenerys in Game of Thrones, the show is able to end Selina’s character arc in an absolutely perfect way. Also, there some lovely supporting turns this season by Hugh Laurie, Better Call Saul’s Rhea Seehorn and Tony Hale.
Despite the first few episodes feeling a little bit filler, the finale was absolutely brilliant and remains one of best ways to end a series in recent years.
11. The Umbrella Academy, season 1
This very peculiar superhero series debuted on Netflix in February, and seemed to be an odd mix of Tim Burton, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Pushing Daisies and Heroes. Benefiting from some ambitious character arcs (specially by Ellen Page’s Jean Grey-inspired Vanya), deft interplay between the eccentric characters and an original visual style, this was one of the best Netflix Originals of recent years, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
10. Sex Education, season 1
Another Netflix original here that premiered earlier this year that was absolutely terrific. Much like the teen film, Booksmart from earlier this year, this show managed to reinvigorate the coming of age genre with wit and a renewed energy. The show benefits largely from charming lead performances by Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson, along with loads of appearances by various promising newcomers (notable cast members include Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey and Aimee Lou Wood). Blending the heart-breaking and harsh truth of teen dramas like Skins but still with a lighthearted charm, I can’t wait to see where this goes for season 2, to be released this January.
9. The Good Place, season 4
In a world of television series being dark and depressing and focusing on anti-heroes, it’s wonderful to see to see a show like The Good Place that remains unapoletically optimistic in it’s final season. Although this season has yet to end (with 3 episodes left), the show remains as charming and lovely as ever, and it’s bonkers and weird premise still hasn’t run of steam it’s final year – if anything, the show has just got more entertaining. Hopefully, unlike Game of Thrones, it will end the series just as brilliantly.
8. Schitt’s Creek, season 5
The small underdog series that has finally managed to break into the mainstream, Schitt’s Creek has really come into it’s own in it’s latest two seasons. Perfecting it’s vein of awkward comedy and heart-warming relationship drama, Schitt’s Creek has become possibly the best comedy on television. Also, Caroline O’Hara is a comedy legend.
Following from Game of Thrones disappointment, HBO rebounded with this miniseries, detailing the devastating true life Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, which easily became one of the best miniseries of the year. Every element of production was fantastic from the writing, the direction, the production design and the performances (especially by Jared Harris). It’s very hard to watch, but it’s still very much worth it for just how brilliant it was.
6. Russian Doll, season 1
Much like Sex Education, Russian Doll has managed to successfully reinvigorate a hired genre – this time, being the time loop/ personal improvement genre in the vein of Groundhog Day and It’s a Wonderful Life. It has managed to do that so brilliantly with the wonderful writing and great lead performance by Natasha Lyonne. Hopefully, they don’t mess it up for season 2.
5. Derry Girls, season 2
Although Derry Girls – the Irish comedy-drama, produced by Hat Trick and Channel 4 – probably won’t be known to international audiences, it’s one probably the best British comedy out there at the moment. Filled with wonderful characters, brilliant one-liners (particular by Siobhan McSweeney’s deadpan Sister Michael and Louisa Harland’s bonkers Orla) and great writing, Derry Girls is one of UK’s greatest hits of recent years.
This true life Netflix miniseries was utterly heartbreaking and captivating. The series combines two central story-lines – the harrowing story of the rape of Marie Alder (played by the brilliant Kaitlyn Dever, who broke out this year with equally wonderful Booksmart) and the investigation of various rapes by two chalk-and-cheese police detectives (played by equally great Toni Colette and Merritt Wever). Through brilliant performances, the series manages to completely surpass it’s true crime and police drama roots to create something riveting. A must watch.
3. Fleabag, season 2
These top three are so bloody fantastic that any one of them could be to number one. But currently, in my mood at the moment, the second series to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s breakout series, Fleabag ranks at number 3. The series combines some of the best writing seen on television with brilliant performances by Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott (with a nice cameo by Kristen Scott Thomas). The end result is a heartbreaking and riveting depiction of addiction, trauma and grief, whilst retaining a real wit at the same time. Hell, even Obama loves it, so it you don’t, you have no soul.
2. Stranger Things, season 3
The breakout Netflix series shows no signs of slowing down for it’s third season, with possibly the best season yet. While, the second season of the show felt like a homage to David Cronenberg and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1984), this season felt more like a homage to popular 80s summer blockbusters movies, in the vein of Back to the Future (1985). The real strength of the season is how brilliantly directed it is, keeping it very briskly paced, whilst developing all of it’s characters in interesting ways. It’s just wonderful.
The loose adaptation/ continuation of Alan Moore’s classic 1986/87 graphic novel, Watchmen is the definitely best TV show of the year. The real strengths of the series is how each every episode of the series feels completely unique and different, while contributing to the overall story. Highlights include “This Extraordinary Being”, a black-and-white trip back to the 1930s; “Little Fear of Lightning”, a dark character study about the depths of PTSD and “A God Walks Into Abar”, a really heartbreaking love story. The characters and performances, from Regina King’s Angela to Tim Blake Nelson’s Looking Glass to Jean Smart’s Laurie, are really fantastic. Even though it stands beautifully as it’s own self-contained series, I would still like to see where this goes for season 2. It was just fantastic, and it’s my favourite show of the year.
What a year 2019 has been for film. We have had huge event movies like Avengers Endgame, extremely polarizing movies like Joker, disappointing sequels like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and It: Chapter Two, and critically acclaimed films like The Irishman and Little Women. Here, however, are my personal favourites of the year.
Firstly, some honourable mentions: Apollo 11, Avengers: Endgame, Blinded by the Light, Doctor Sleep, Dolemite is My Name, The Favourite, Hustlers, Ready or Not, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, The Sisters Brothers, Spider-Man: Far From Home and Stan & Ollie
An earlier release from this year, this South Korean psychological thriller/ mystery film (directed by Lee Chang-dong and starring Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun and Jeon Jong-seo), was hypnotic, strange and utterly captivating. The film plays out like a mixture between David Lynch and Park Chan-wook in it’s mysterious characters and weird imagery. It’s a very slow-burn, but for those who have the patience for it, it will be an utterly rewarding watch.
14. Eighth Grade
This film, directed and penned by comedian/YouTuber turned director, Bo Burnham, felt so true, real and honest. Featuring an terrific central performance by Elsie Fisher, the film deals with serious themes, such as young teenage angst, mental health, consent and the impact of social media on the youth of today. Yet, it manages to do so in a witty, funny and accessible way. It’s just great.
13. If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins’s follow-up to 2016’s Moonlight (which was one of my favourite films of recent years), this may not of been as devastating or engrossing as the Best Picture winner was, but it was still wonderful. Jenkins has a real talent for infusing terrible and depressing situations with some real wonder and hope, and he does that beautifully here. Also, all the performances are great, particularly Regina King, who deserves the Oscar alone just for THAT mirror scene alone. I wait to see what Jenkins does next.
After the surprise success of the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody (which I also unashamedly loved), Dexter Fletcher follows that up with this new biopic about the life of Elton John. In the same way as Bohemian Rhapsody did, here Fletcher directs the musical sequences in such a passionate and entertaining way, creating probably the best musical of the year. Also, the lead, Taron Egerton continues on his streak of being one of the best actors around, creating a very nuanced portrayal of John (and by the look of it, will unfortunately be snubbed for a Best Actor nomination). It’s just so much fun.
11. The Peanut Butter Falcon
Playing like this decade’s answer to 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, this film was just so sweet and lovely. It’s the film that will most probably sell you on Dakota Johnson as a screen presence, as she’s great in this, as is Shia LaBeouf, who seems well on this way to having a career revival. Also, Zack Gottsagen as the lead is a revelation. It’s one of the most recent examples of how to make a sweet and heartfelt film, but not having it reduced to sentimentality.
Being the first animated feature to come originally from Netflix, this lovely movie serves as an origin story to Santa Claus. With absolutely beautiful old-school hand-drawn animation, a heartfelt story and great vocal performances, this movie ranks up as one of the best animated films of the year. Also, as a Christmas film, this will no doubt be featured as one of the most recent examples of modern holiday classic.
9. Toy Story 4
Another animated film here, Toy Story 4 did the impossible by upping what was the perfect trilogy into what is now the perfect quadrilogy. Although, it is no doubt an extended epilogue to the series, it still manages to end every character’s arc in a completely wholesome way, and never feels like a cynical cash grab (which I’m sure it really was). Also, if you don’t cry at the ending “To Infinity… And Beyond” scene, you have definitely have no soul.
Jordan Peele’s follow-up to the 2017’s brilliant Get Out (one of my favourites of the decade), Us will no doubt not be for all tastes, but I loved it, and seems to be getting better the more times I watch it (I’ve seen it 3 times now). Like Get Out, the film combines some hilarious black humour and biting social commentary, but this time, mixed with a much scarier and nastier tone, which Peele always feels completely in control of. As much as I loved Doctor Sleep, this is definitely the best horror film of the year.
7. Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson and especially, Adam Driver give career-best performances in this heartbreaking Noah Baumbach film. The film combines comedy, drama, and oddly, some musical moments, and ends up creating a very true, and emotional depiction of marriage, divorce and family. If Joaquin Phoenix wins the Best Actor Oscar over Driver then, we riot because Driver deserves it much, much more.
6. One Cut of the Dead
Much like recent film, Parasite (which, if it had come out in the UK this year, would no doubt, be part of this list), the least you know about this film, the better. The first 40 minutes may take some patience to get through, but once that is over, the film becomes incredibly smart, clever, witty and heart-felt. The second act also completely justifies the opening act, and remains a great deconstruction for the zombie genre and of low-budget filmmaking. It has to be seen to believed, as it’s just wonderful.
5. The Farewell
This film, about a family (headed by a young woman, played by Awkwafina) who decide to not the matriarch that she’s actually dying of terminal cancer, is equals parts devastatingly emotional and equals parts very funny. The film also always finds a way to feel very real and relatable, even if you have never been through anything remotely like this. Also, the out-of-character serious performance by Awkwafina is fantastic, and should get an Oscar nomination. I loved it!
4. Little Women
Greta Gerwig follows up her great 2017 coming-of-age comedy-drama, Lady Bird (which I love love loved) by writing and directing the seventh adaptation of Louise May Alcott’s classic novel. Gathering a huge ensemble cast (including big names ranging from Laura Dern to Meryl Streep to Chris Cooper to Emma Watson to Bob Odenkirk), EVERYONE in this film is so good, but the standouts are Saoirse Ronan and this year’s breakout star, Florence Pugh. This film is also beautifully directed, and remains just so lovely, heartfelt and universal for everyone to watch.
3. The Irishman
This Martin Scorsese picture seems him back on regular ground after some more experimental films from him in recent years (like 2016’s Silence & 2011’s Hugo) and reunites him with a plethora of talent including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. Although not as exciting as films like Goodfellas or The Departed, this film is melancholic, quiet, and deeply affecting. Dealing with themes of ageing, regret and leaving a legacy, this film will stick with you long after the credits start rolling.
Olivia Wilde completely revitalized the coming-of-age genre this year with the smart and hilarious Booksmart. Wilde is absolutely fantastic behind the camera, directing the film in a zippy and energetic way, and script is able to get the right mixture between funny moments and a genuine heartfelt story. Also, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are stars in the making. If anyone says that comedy in 2019 can’t be done (I’m looking at you, Todd Phillips), this is all the proof you need that comedies can still be rip-roaringly hilarious.
1. Knives Out
Yes, this film may not have the most depth or emotional resonance as some films this year, but it was this Rian Johnson-penned whodunnit was the one that kept me entertained and invested more than any other film. It’s incredibly smart, unpredictable and shocking whilst still remaining witty and funny, and having a genuine heart underneath the drama (mainly due to a very good Ana de Armas in the lead role). If you go to see, you will not be disappointed because it’s just so damn entertaining.
Considering that I can’t review everything that I watch in a month (I don’t have that kind of time) – I’m doing a quick recap from each film and TV show I watch, and what Comics I read every month. Here they are:
Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019) – This was fine. It felt like it was trying too hard to be The Big Sick (one of my favourites from 2017) in dealing with serious themes in a funny and mainstream way. It didn’t quite achieve that, however, I liked it’s central messages and Gillian Bell’s lead performance.
Burning (2018) – One of the year’s earlier releases that I missed, this movie was hypnotic, strange and dreamy. It was very reminiscent of David Lynch and I really liked it.
Charlie’s Angels (2019) – I was quite disappointed my this. I went into it thinking it was going to re-launch the franchise in a fun, interesting way, but the end result was very uneven. The three leads are perfectly fine (Naomi Scott is really great, but Kristen Stewart as the comedic relief doesn’t quite work), but I just wished this was much better.
The Good Liar (2019) – I feel like if I hadn’t watched Knives Out recently – which did something new, different and subversive with the twisty-turny thriller genre, that I love love loved – I might of liked this better. It just felt quite formulaic and uninspired, and all the twists I could easily see coming. Helen Mirren and Ian McKellan were perfectly fine, though.
Harriet (2019) – I liked this one quite a bit. There were some elements about that didn’t quite gel, especially Harriet Tubman’s premonitions and visions of god, but overall, it was quite a solid and engaging biopic. Cynthia Erivo’s lead performance was very good.
Jojo Rabbit (2019) – A review of this might come when this is properly released in the UK in January because I really really liked this one. It’s very peculiar and I do wonder how the film got made, but I loved it’s balls. Also, it was so funny. All the performances from the cast are great, particularly a very impressive Scarlett Johansson. If it was released this year properly, it probably would have one of my favourites of the year.
Little Women (2019) – This adaptation of Little Women was just utterly wonderful – it may have even bested director, Greta Gerwig’s other film, Lady Bird from 2017 (which I love love loved). All the performances are fantastic (Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are the real stand-outs, but I love EVERYONE from Timothee Chalamet, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper and Bob Odenkirk) and the direction from Gerwig is very passionate. One of my favourites of the year, for sure.
Parasite (2019) – Like Jojo Rabbit, I will probably do a review of this when it hits UK theatres in February because honestly, I don’t really have the words right now to describe how I feel about this movie. It’s like watching Alfred Hitchcock direct Fargo. It’s honestly one of the best films of the 21st century, and probably one of the best films I’ve ever seen in my life.
The Souvenir (2019) – This one was slightly divisive with audiences – some called it slow and pretentious, while some called it interesting and polished. I’m somewhere in the middle with it – I thought the direction and production design made it a very polished movie, and I loved the performances (Honor Swindon Byrne is a star) but I felt it lacked emotion and I was quite detached from it.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – The critical response to this was a little unfair, as this Star Wars movie was fine, but that’s really all it was – just fine. The first half was a little painful, and was terribly written, but the film started to get a lot better in the second half, made infinitely better by Adam Driver’s performance. The real problem is that this movie didn’t really live up to the high standard set up by The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
House on Haunted Hill (1959) – A very campy, fun and quite silly horror classic. It has some genuine scares, too, especially the Old Woman scare. Great fun.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – This John Carpenter joint was quite uneven – it had some moments of unintentional hilarity, and the plot was a little all over the place. However, I loved it’s visceral special effects, and I admired it for it’s flat-out weirdness. I overall really liked it.
Jack Frost (1997) – Combining the Christmas spirit, and my love of horror films, this film was so bad, that it was so good. I mean it was no Chopping Mall, and my critical faculties can’t defend it at all, but I had fun.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – Finally got round to watching this Christmas classic, and I really liked it. It was sweet, lovely and really cute.
Top Hat (1935) – Another classic that I finally got round to watching – this was a lovely Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical. The musical sequences were absolutely fantastic, and although, they were probably better than the overall film, it was still really lovely.
Wild Tales (2014) – Finally got around to watching this, and I absolutely LOVED it. It was so dark, cynical, witty and funny. Also, unlike many anthology movies, with each segment, the film just seems to get better. If I had seen this in 2014/2015 time, it no doubt would of been one of my favourites of the year.
Re-watching some of the year’s most popular films:
Avengers: Endgame (2019) – The biggest movie of all time happens to get the right mixture between big epic scale, emotional resonance and cathartic moments. Game of Thrones and Star Wars, wishes – this is how you end a popular franchise.
Booksmart (2019) – God I love this film. I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it.
The Irishman (2019) – One of the year’s best, and Scorsese’s best in 13 years since The Departed. One of my favourites of the year, for sure.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) – Much like Joker this year, I slightly conflicted about this film (although, I do like this one much, much more). I love the craft and passion involved (I love the performances, and how the production design and costume design really invoke you in 60s era), and I love that it’s more a mature film from Tarantino (in the same vein of Jackie Brown), but I think there are many sequences (particularly Leonardo DiCaprio filming his western) that feel indulgent and over-long. It’s still quite good fun, though, and THAT ending is properly fantastic.
Rocketman (2019) – I really loved this movie – it doesn’t re-invent the musical biopic genre or anything, but it’s so much fun. The musical sequences and Taron Egerton’s performance are just wonderful.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) – This was doesn’t hold up so well on fourth (yes, that right, fourth) viewing, but as a huge Spider-Man fan, I still really liked it.
Films that are always regular Christmas viewing:
Barefoot in the Park (1967) – It’s my mum’s favourite film, and we always watch it on her birthday (which is Christmas Eve), and it’s just wonderful.
Die Hard (1988) – Who cares what Bruce Willis says, this IS a Christmas movie, and it’s a wonderful one at that.
Gremlins (1984) – The super dark, daft and fun Christmas horror movie that I always love watching.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – Watching this with my dad is one of my highlights of each Christmas.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) – Chevy Chase is hilarious in this stupid but hilarious movie.
Paddington 2 (2017) – One of my favourite films of recent years, this movie is WONDERFUL.
Rare Exports (2010) – As someone who used to be terrified on Santa, this film takes a needed dark take on Santa and Christmas. It’s just great.
Singin in the Rain (1952) – One of my favourite films of all time, this movie is made with such passion, craft and personality.
Trading Places (1984) – One of the most underrated Christmas films of all time, I love a lot about this movie – the social commentary, the one-liners and the performances. It’s just great.
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) – My mum wanted to watch this on New Years’ Eve. It isn’t as well-written or smart than the first film, but it’s still quite funny.
TV Shows Watched this Month
Watchmen, season 1 – I loved this series so much – it’s one of my favourites of the year and possibly the best superhero series of all time. The series is very well-structured and well-plotted and each episode feels unique and special. All the performances are great, as well, particularly Regina King and Tim Blake Nelson. I just loved it.
Gavin & Stacey, 2019 Christmas special – I’m sorry, I’ve tried loads of times, but I just don’t get Gavin and Stacey. Ruth Jones is great, though.
Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer – This series is incredibly hard to watch at times, but it was very shocking and ultimately very fascinating. The only problem with it was that it became more of a standard killer/man hunt type thriller after a while, and lost it’s shocking edge. That being said, this miniseries was well a watch (even if you have to watch it through splayed fingers).
Comics Read this Month
Skyward, Volume 1 (Issues 1-5) – This series is so much fun. It has taken over as my favourite new comic to come out recently since Paper Girls ended in the summer. It’s feels very fresh, entertaining and clever.
Film of the Month:
Film watched for first time: Parasite (2019)
Runner-ups: Little Women (2019) & Marriage Story (2019)
Re-watched Film: Singin in the Rain (1952)
Runner-ups: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) & Paddington 2 (2017)
2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was possibly one of the most surprisingly great films of all time. A sequel-cum-reboot to the 1995 Robin Williams film could of ended up feeling like a cynical cash grab, but with four great central performances and a wonderful script, it ended up being a fun winter-time treat. The film was also a huge success with audiences, grossing nearly 1 billion worldwide, so obviously, a sequel would be required.
The original centrally starred Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan as four avatars in the video game of Jumanji (adapted from the board game of the original), and saw four teenagers take on these avatars after entering the game. The sequel takes place 3 years later, in which our central characters have all moved on and are now young adults in college. Feeling his life was better when he was in the game, Spencer (Alex Wolff) decides to re-enter the game, and soon enough, his friends, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) and his girlfriend, Martha (Morgan Turner) decide to also re-enter the game once again to save Spencer. However, this is complicated when instead of Bethany, the game actually sucks in two new players, 70-somethings, Eddie (Danny DeVito), Spencer’s grandfather and Milo (Danny Glover), Eddie’s former friend.
One of the central charms of Welcome to the Jungle was the role reversal of seeing the four teenagers in an avatar that was largely against type – for example, we the wimpish Spencer in the tough and burly Johnson avatar; the macho and tall Fridge in the small and slightly pointless Hart avatar; the shy and reversed Martha in the confident and scantily-clad Gillan avatar and the shallow and look-obsessed Bethany in, as she puts it, the “overweight and middle-aged” Black avatar.
The Next Level continues on this role reversal centrally, but tries to shake up the formula. The absolute highlight is seeing the elderly Milo inside the Hart avatar. Seeing Hart play against his normal acting style of talking in quite a high-pitched, shrieking and fast-paced manner and instead, talking in a slow-paced, and articulate manner is by far, the funniest part of the movie. Hart has appear in a lot of mediocre movies in the past, but from this and also his solid dramatic starring role in The Upside earlier this year, it seems like he is improving as a screen performer. For anyone normally annoyed with his over-the-top shrieking, will be largely impressed by him in this movie. Hart in this movie is not only, the funniest part of the movie, but one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a movie all year.
The other 3 avatars are not as entertaining as Hart, but still have some fun moments. This time, Johnson ends up getting DeVito in the game, and seeing him take on DeVito’s mannerisms is quite entertaining and funny. Also, the comedy stemming from seeing Johnson and Hart play older men (who are suddenly freed from bad hearing and bad hips) could of been written with a little more wit, but still has some fun moments.
Also in this movie, we see Fridge again end up in the complete opposite avatar, this time in the Black avatar. The humour stemming from it is pretty much the same joke repeated from the first movie (this time with the added joke that he’s “now white!”), but it still fairly works. The only cast member really given the short straw this time is Gillan, who was an absolute hilarious highlight in the first movie, and doesn’t really get much to do this time around. This time she ends up being Martha’s avatar for the second time, which is a bit tiresome, but as this happens, she ends up being a good conduit into this world for the second time.
Bonus characters this time around include a new avatar called Ming Fleetfoot, played by rising star, Awkwafina. The former rapper turned actress made a solid debut in last year’s Ocean’s Eight, and earlier this year, gave a terrific, possibly Oscar nominated serious turn in the superb The Farewell, and she is also very funny here as we see her portray various characters.
The only real problem with this sequel is the script isn’t quite as witty as the original. One of the highlights of the original was it’s entertaining satire of video games (for example, seeing Gillan complain about what exactly the point is of her wearing a scantily-clad Lara Croft outfit), but it feels like that is lacking from this one. Also, the script is not as tight or well developed as the original. The original also had a running joke of giving the characters three lives in a video game-like way, and often killed off the characters in a way that felt effortless and creative, and it feels like this one lacks that part of the script. The script just needed just a better put-together narrative.
The end result is slightly uneven, and also lacks the pleasant surprise that Welcome to the Jungle had. Despite this, it is still an entertaining follow-up that will keep parents and kids entertained this winter break. Despite this, it will probably lose it’s charm if they keep making these (which I’m sure they inevitably will).
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this film is a biopic focusing centrally on Tom Hanks portraying Fred Rogers – primarily known for the American childrens’ show, Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood (which ran for 33 years between 1968 to 2001) – from the amount of awards buzz from his performance (and having just nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for his performance), and also how, the film’s poster sees him front and centre. However, the film itself, while partly a biopic, is a very different beast.
Based on the article Esquire magazine article “Can You Say… Hero” by journalist, Tom Jurod, the film focuses on Lloyd Vassel (portrayed by Matthew Rhys, which is loosely based off of Jurod), who is given an assignment to interview Rogers. Vassel – who has a new baby with his wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and is dealing with a long-standing feud with his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper) – soon has his outlook on life drastically changed by Rogers and his lovely positivity.
Firstly, Hanks’s performance is really terrific. The bit of casting could appear slightly on the nose, as like Rogers, Hanks is often known in real life, for being a really nice guy. However, what is sometimes forgotten about Hanks is that he really is a fantastic actor, and here, Hanks really embodies Rogers. Much in the same way as Renee Zellweger’s terrific performance as Judy Garland in this year’s Judy (which has also just nabbed her a Golden Globe nomination), Hanks also manages to capture the essence of Rogers, including his voice and his mannerisms.
The film often details Rogers’ wonderful acts of kindness (including how he always greeted an fan before filming an episode) and how he always seems genuinely interested in every conversation he has, and Hanks is able to make these moments feel very real and believable. This is particularly significant for this film because when the film descents into sentimentality, it never feels schmaltzy or fake, and you can honestly tell how Vogel ends up opening up to Rogers, and having his life changed.
When Hanks is off-screen, however, the film slightly struggles. The story of Vogel, his family and his relationship with his father is perfectly fine, and Rhys gives a pretty solid performance. However, it all feels slightly too predictable, and a little too safe. Also, as perfectly fine as Watson is, her character of Vogel’s wife is slightly poorly developed. It’s the sort of movie in which the characters consistently complain the lead character, and the film sometimes fails to articulate properly why he is so unlikeable.
The film, directed by Marielle Heller – who over the past decade has directed critically acclaimed films, The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) and Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) (she likes her long titles) – makes some odd directional choices here and there. The film has a peculiar framing device in how Rogers starts telling the story on one episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, which never quite works or clicks into place. There are also some strange scene transitions, here and there, that go from this framing device to the actual story, that never quite work.
The real strength of the film, however, is Hanks’ performance. Heller, who directed Oscar nominated performances by Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, definitely knows how to direct good performances, but still needs to improve on making really investing films. Despite this, however, the film overall is really heart-warming and lovely film that is well worth seeing for Hanks.
Noah Baumbach has been on a roll recently – coming out with really insightful and interesting comedy-dramas in the form of While We’re Young (2014), The Meyerowitz Stories (2017), and now possible Oscar contender, Marriage Story. The film, influenced by various films, such as multiple Oscar winner, Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), takes a detailed and insightful look at marriage and divorce.
The film stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as the young couple, Charlie and Nicole Barber, who have a 8-year-old child, Henry together. Charlie is a theatre director living in New York City, making strange avant-garde plays, while Nicole is a former teen actress who often stars in Charlie’s plays. As Nicole moves to Los Angeles to star in a new television pilot, the divorce proceedings start to begin. As Charlie is torn between his child in Los Angeles and his work in New York City, proceedings between the couple begin to turn ugly.
The film, which has had a early release in various film festivals over the past 3 months, has been making waves, with particular acclaim for it’s two lead performances. Driver and Johansson have both been stated to get a lot of awards love, with some staying they will be competition for original favourites, Joaquin Phoenix and Renee Zellweger for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively (although, it does seem like the controversy about Joker will more hurt Phoenix’s chances more).
Firstly, Driver’s performance is really terrific. The actor – who has also starred in the summer’s disappointing zombie flick, The Dead Don’t Die; the recent Amazon Prime original, The Report and will star in the forthcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker later this month – is really having his “moment” right now. As one of the most hardest working man in show-business, he has risen up acting in various indie films with some fantastic directors (including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers). He seems to be in the rank of select group of actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Gosling that can seem to mix both small, independent movies with big-budget blockbusters. This, however, might be his best work. He follows Dustin Hoffman’s template in Kramer vs. Kramer by being small and subtle whilst remaining very powerful and impactful.
Johansson is also very good. Like Driver, she also seems to be having a “moment” right now, including this, her acclaimed work in Taika Watiti’s film, Jojo Rabbit (which has yet to come out in the UK), and her small, but pivotal role in Avengers: Endgame earlier in the year. Here, she makes a return to the subtle, engaging lead performances not particularly seen since her work in Lost in Translation over 15 years ago. Her work in the early parts of the film is particularly heart-breaking, particularly a long monologue about how her life has not turned out the way she hoped.
Along with the two fantastic lead performances, the supporting cast are also terrific. Laura Dern is on good form (building on her recent great work on the television series, Big Little Lies and the news she is returning to the Jurassic Park series) as Nicole’s whip-smart, sharp-tongued lawyer. There are some good cameos from various character actors, including Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Merritt Wever and Julie Hagerty.
Aside from the performances, the film has some terrific moments and scenes that very much stick out. The opening, in which Charlie and Nicole discuss what they love about the other was so lovely and self-contained that it could of been released a gorgeous short film. Much like, a lot of Baumbach’s work, the film balances a lot of different genres, from wacky, almost-slapstick comedy to heart-breaking drama, and at some points, bizarrely tips into a musical.
One of best scenes include when Nicole’s sister, Cassie (Wever) is convinced by Nicole to serve Charlie the divorce papers, and because of Cassie’s nerves, the end result is a wacky and hilarious scene. In another scene, Charlie has a visit from a caretaker, which is quite awkward and unsuccessful that culminates on Charlie accidentally cutting himself and passing out on the floor (I’m serious). The scene is so weird and bizarre (and surprisingly gory) that it actually ends up being rather brilliant.
Along with the strange, weird and wacky, the film also has a lot of emotional moments – especially a lengthy segment where Driver sings the entirety of Sondheim’s “Being Alive”, which while being beautifully sang, is very emotional and sweet. Another beautiful scene is when Driver reads out the letter Nicole wrote about him aloud to his son (who is struggling to learn how to read), which had me tearing up. The letters in the opening segment also make their way into the rest of the film that is very smartly written and clever.
These are fantastic moments, but sometimes, that is all the film feels like – a variety of scenes and moments. If I have a complaint about the film, it could have a better, tighter and more polished narrative. I hate to say it, but I think that possibly the performances are better than the overall film. That being said, the overall film is still a beautiful and emotional watch, which are worth watching for it’s fantastic lead performances.
Rian Johnson follows up one of the biggest movies of 2017, The Last Jedi from a small franchise called Star Wars, with a new film in the form of Knives Out. The film is said to be a return to the old fashioned “whodunnit” genre, influenced by classic murder mystery films, like Clue (1985), Murder by Death (1976), and Gosford Park (2001), as well as television series, Poirot and the works of Agatha Christie.
The film is centred around the Thrombey family, who are dealing with the death of patriarch, Harlan (who true to the genre, is a famous murder mystery writer), whose throat is mysteriously found slit. Soon comes the arrival of various police, including Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who along with Harlan’s maid and good friend, Marta (Ana de Armos), try to solve the case. All of Harlan’s relatives are suspects, and in more true form to the genre, it follows an ensemble cast, including Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell and Christopher Plummer.
There was a lot riding on this movie as a follow-up to The Last Jedi, as well as the huge buzz coming from it’s release at the Toronto Film Festival back in September. And it was a complete and utter blast from beginning to end. It’s the sort of the film that you won’t want to pee because you’ll be afraid of missing a single line of dialogue. If you venture out to see it, it will most likely be one of the funnest times at the cinema you’ll have all year.
If you are ever think that cinema, particularly recent releases, are ever too safe and predictable, then this film will really please you. It is jam-packed full of twists, and it’s safe to say that you never know where it’s going for one second. There is a particular twist after about 30 minutes that felt so brave and unexpected that it rivalled the decapitation moment from last year’s Hereditary.
There was a criticism (along with many others) about The Last Jedi that it was almost “too subversive”, and the film was the film was trying too hard to play with the audience’s expectations. And, along I do like The Last Jedi, Knives Out feels much more polished and well thought-out with it’s surprises. The film, although influenced by mystery cinema, felt more akin to recent movies like La La Land (2016) and Baby Driver (2017) by addressing an old-fashioned genre, but approaching it in a completely modern and new way.
The film also manages to manage it’s surprises and subversive plot with real comedy, wit and sometimes, even heart. Armas is a terrific leading heroine, who despite being possibly the most un-experienced of the main cast, completely held her own. There’s even some (admittedly, very small) social commentary about how she, a Cuban immigrant, manages to come out on top against the self-centred Thrombey family with just her good, nice-hearted nature.
Craig is also a great lead, and it’s great to see him showing his comedic chops after his great work in Logan Lucky from 2017. His southern drawl accent is a element that doesn’t completely work, but that doesn’t matter in the long run. In terms of the supporting cast, it’s hard to find a favourite in the star-studded supporting cast, but Evans and Collette are particularly very great and really funny, as was Plummer in his very small screen-time. There is a moment and scene for every character in this movie, and none of it’s cast members feel under-utilized.
Although the plot feels like it’s plucked straight from a television show (like Poirot), there are moments in this film that feel properly cinematic. Much like The Last Jedi, the cinematography is really gorgeous, especially the establishing shots of the mansion. The costume and set design is also very meticulous and detailed, particularly in the little details about the mansion.
This is probably the best and most polished work from Johnson as far. Brick, Looper and The Last Jedi were all good to great, but lacked feeling like anything more that just an director playing with a certain genre. This film did what the great Edgar Wright movies do by parodying a genre but still completely feeling like an completely individual piece of work.
Also, make sure you see this film in the biggest crowd as possible. I laughed, smiled and gasped, and we all did this together. Also, don’t look at spoilers and don’t let your friends tell you what happened because this is a movie best experience completely fresh. This, along many others (including Booksmart, The Peanut Butter Falcon, The Farewell and One Cut of the Dead), ranks up there as one of the best movies of the year. Hell, it might even be the best movie of the year.