If you haven’t heard, The Mandalorian ended it’s first season last week (if time still has any meaning to you anymore). And, with the series proving a huge success, receiving critical acclaim and big ratings, the series feels like a hugely successful revival to franchise. Now, with the franchise announcing a load of new TV shows in production, it seems like the future of Star Wars is television. And I’m here to tell you why that’s a good thing.
From around 2014/2015, LucasFilm has been trying really hard to revive Star Wars as a franchise. It had been 9 years since the last Star Wars film, where the prequel trilogy ended with Revenge of the Sith. And, although, the prequel trilogy most definitely has it’s fans, the films are often cited as huge disappointments. So when fans found out a new trilogy would be happening, they were apprehensive. However, with the return of original trilogy actors (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and co.) and a load of talent behind the camera (JJ Abrams as director, Kathleen Kennedy as producer and Lawrence Kasdan as writer), it seemed like fans might of started to come around to the prospect of a new trilogy.
And then, The Force Awakens happened. It was one of those movies that gained a huge amount of hype and buzz, not seen like by any film before – except maybe, well, The Phantom Menace. And, for the most part, The Force Awakens was a huge success – critics and fans were all very positive and called it the best Star Wars film in 35 years (since The Empire Strikes Back). After a lot of uncertainty about this franchise, it seems like finally the franchise was back in safe, reliant hands.
This new-found success pretty much continued for the next year. Star Wars released the spin-off, Rogue One, taking place in the same universe, but still completely unconnected to the current trilogy. And, although the film is not without it’s naysayers, the film was also pretty much a big success with critics and audiences. This soon gave LucasFilm and Kennedy the confidence to do a variety of Anthology films, a prospect that could continue long beyond this trilogy ends. Everything was looking rosey for Star Wars, and every-one couldn’t wait to see where the franchise went.
But, then, The Last Jedi happened. Now, before you jump down my throat, I, myself, am a huge fan of the film, but saying that it was hugely divisive amongst fans would be an understatement. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, someone who has made a name for himself by subverting and playing with genre and form, the film did not come across a normal, paint-by-numbers Star Wars film, but rather a film that subverted Star Wars tropes, and by extension, space opera tropes in general.
Fans were very divisive about this, questioning what the real point of this was, and complaining about Johnson effectively abandoning a lot of plot points that Abrams and co set up in Force Awakens, including Rey’s heritage and the significance of Snoke’s character. The film was an experiment, and as much as I am a big fan of the film, it was a big diversion from the story they were telling in Force Awakens. But what did the studio expect from Johnson? He was obviously not going to do the thing that we expected. And not only that, the studio let him. If this was the MCU (the Marvel Cinematic Universe), they would of made sure that a filmmaker feels like he or she has the freedom they deserve, whilst telling an story related to the overall story.
In one movie, it looked like the franchise was in not so safe hands (and just to clarify, I mean the studio and Kennedy as producer, not Johnson). Not only that, but there many things going around the franchise that caused behind-the-scene trouble – including Carrie Fisher’s untimely death and the departures of many directors from numerous different projects, including Josh Trank (from an untitled spin-off), Colin Trevorrow (from Episode 9) and Chris Lord and Phil Miller (from the forthcoming spin-off, Solo).
This only got worse with the release of Solo. The film had a odd production, in which half of it was filmed by Lord and Miller, and the rest of it was finished by Ron Howard. The end result was fine, but just fine, and lacking in any of the same magic of the previous 3 movies. And, not to mention, because with the film’s lukewarm reviews, behind the scenes trouble, and short time between releases (only 5 months), the film was not a success, and the only film from the franchise to become a box office failure.
This was also very true of The Rise of Skywalker. Now with Fisher gone (who was apparently meant to have a big role in the film), and with Trevarrow now left and Abrams stepping back in, the film underwent a lot of changes and a script re-write. Again, like Solo, the film itself was fine, but just fine. And it felt disappointing that this was the fate that befell the conclusion of a trilogy that showed so much promise with it’s first two movies.
However, since then, the franchise has truly bounced back with the release of The Mandalorian, a TV series that was broadcast on DisneyPlus. Scoring high on both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, the series has been received very well by fans and critics. It has also scored huge ratings, and has been cited as one of the reasons for DisneyPlus’s huge success.
One of the reasons for this could be because, television is just the right home for Star Wars. One of the great things about television on the whole as a medium is that you can experiment. Just look at various episodes of your favourite shows (say for example: Buffy or The X Files), and the wonderful thing about them is that now and then, they can go against the norm and do something different than the normal narrative.
And that’s just what Star Wars needs. Johnson is a filmmaker who makes strange, experimental movies, and there is a case that his style of film-making didn’t fit in with a big Star Wars trilogy. It possibly would of been better if he had been given a episode of The Mandalorian or any episode of any of the upcoming Star Wars TV shows to write-direct, and this wouldn’t of interrupted the story that the trilogy was telling.
There is also a big possibility that the prospect of doing a trilogy of big, epic movies is a slightly outdated concept. The concept of it back in 2014 was very exciting, as it gave us memories of the trilogies of 70s-80s (with the original trilogy) and 00s (with the prequel trilogy), and even more exciting when Force Awakens came out and was great. However, in this day and age when the MCU is the biggest franchise of the moment, and has a very different take to storytelling (telling a huge story but very slowly in small parts over 23 movies and 11 years), it seems like the idea of a big trilogy of hugely typed movies is something of the past.
Yes, that is why the Star Wars Anthology movies would of been a good idea, as they could be separate, stand-alone entities without going into a overall story. However, with the movie industry the way it is, it just wouldn’t of worked. As shown with Solo, if the experiment fails badly, and the film becomes a flop, it would be hard to get any distributor interested in future Anthology films. However, if an experimental episode of television doesn’t work and flops, it would be nothing – a blip on the radar that isn’t really talked about. Take The Mandalorian, for example – most of the episodes are absolutely brilliant, but now and then, we have the odd average episode (“The Gunslinger”, for example). However, because most of the show is fantastic, no-one really talks about it, or really cares.
And, this is something that could pretty much only happen now. Television has changed so much since 1977, and in the past 43 years, we have a much higher quality of writing and cinematography and a bigger budget for visual effects. Now, certain television shows really rival anything seen on film. So, maybe, this is the perfect time for Star Wars to become television orientated.
Over the next few years, we have season 2 of The Mandalorian coming out in October (and a third season in post-production), and two other TV shows in post-production involving Obi-wan Kenobi and Rogue One’s Cassian Andor, respectively, as well as another untitled female-led series. It seems safe to say that the future of Star Wars is on television, and that is most definitely a good thing.
One of the weirdest and funny movies to come to streaming services recently is Why Don’t You Just Die. The Russian black comedy-drama is the feature film debut of Russian writer-director, Kirill Sokolov, who had previously made 4 short films. The film also stars several Russian stars, including Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Vitaliy Khaev, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Mikhail Gorevoy and Elena Shevchenko.
The film at first follows a young man, Matvey (Kuznetsov), who arrives at an apartment with only a hammer, and has a physical fight with an older man, Andrey (Khaev). It is soon revealed that Matvey is actually the boyfriend of Andrey’s daughter, Olya (Kregzhde), and Olya sent Matvey to kill Andrey because apparently, Andrey abused Olya when she was a child. Meanwhile, Andrey, who is a police detective, is having issues with his partner and best friend, Yevgenich (Gorevoy), who wants revenge on Andrey. This leads to a dramatic conclusion which leads to Matvey, Olya and Yevgenich going to the same apartment, all to get revenge on Andrey.
This film is a really exhilarating and funny black comedy, that will make laugh and squirm with equal measure. The film, being a first feature for a director, sometimes feels like an eager kid attempting to show his chops as a director, but saying that, it is still quite entertaining. It is also a film where you can plainly see it’s influences bouncing off the screen, from Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi, Wes Anderson and shades of early Tarantino.
The film is especially influenced by Wright and Raimi in it’s use of camerawork. The camera often uses a swooping and always moving technique that feels very influenced by both Wright and Raimi. There are many parts of the film, in which the camera oddly emphasises certain things, like a turn of the doorknob and someone looking through a peephole, that feels like a quintessential Edgar Wright move.
The film also feels very influenced by Wes Anderson by how Sokolov often frames a shot very squarely and symmetrically. There is also something to be said for the bright use of colours in the movie. The film has uses a lot of bright reds, greens, blues and pinks that feels so vibrant, and just adds to the blackly funny, strange feeling of the movie.
The film also has some wonderful asides, and funny sub plots that make the film very unique. This includes how after Matvey comes back from the dead after being called dead from suffocation, we see how in his youth, he did the exact same thing. Also, when Matvey is attempting to be released from handcuffs, we see, in an almost exercise video-type voice-over, how to and how not to get out of the handcuffs. These unique and strange asides feel almost sitcom-like in their format, and this makes the film very auteur-ist and original.
Other than the style, the film’s plot feels very Tarantino. The film has a very Reservoir Dogs (1992) like format, in which we see the film mainly takes place in one location (Andrey’s apartment), and the film explores the events which got all the characters to this certain location. Also, the film has a fragmented narrative, where it is split into 3 parts, and we see each many from the perspective of each main character (Matvey, Mikhail, and then, Olya).
This is possibly one of the weakest elements of the film, as this non-linear narrative feels slightly unnecessary. When the film goes to a new part of the film, it slightly takes the momentum and pace away from the film. I think, it would of just worked a lot better if they had abandoned this narrative, and just stuck to the blood, guts and gore.
The film can sometimes be really quite bizarre, and just plain surreal in some places. The film is great at dealing with death sequences, in particular, there is a scene where one character has a gruesome, bloody death, then gets up, gives a big speech, and then falls to the floor, dead. Also, our lead character (Matvey) gets beaten, abused and hit all the way through the movie (and effectively dies twice), and this is just excepted at normal. The way in which the film deals with all it’s blood and gore is quite surreal, and ultimately, quite slapstick-y, and this has been plainly influenced by Raimi.
The film is also, performed really well. Everyone’s plays their stereotype very efficiently – Kuznetsov as the put-upon boyfriend; Khaev as the brutish and macho father, and Kregzhde as the young and unsure daughter. Kuznetsov is particularly impressive, as he is a mainly reactive figure, and all he mainly does is react to those around him. Another special mention goes to Shevchenko, who plays Andrey’s put-upon wife (and Olya’s mother).
With all of these influences, the film could possibly read as a rip-off, but, what’s weird about the film is that it ends up feeling oddly original, because of the cheer amount of contrasting influences. The film is so weird, strange and auteurist, and definitely deserves a look. I’m sure you will find it entertaining.
Knives Out was one of the best and most critically acclaimed films of last year, and became a surprise box office success (scoring 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, and grossing $311.5 million on a $40 million budget). It was my favourite film of last year, and for me, it ranks amongst Parasite and Booksmart as the few films from last year that I will most likely continue to re-watch over the years.
The film is directed by Rian Johnson, who has made a name from himself over the years by producing postmodern, quirky, and subversive films that skewer and take apart a chosen genre. He has already done the film noir (with 2005’s Brick), the con man film (with 2008’s The Brothers Bloom), the time travel movie (with 2012’s Looper), the epic space opera film (with 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi), and with Knives Out, he takes on the old-fashioned big ensemble whodunit murder mystery. One of the real joys of the film, much in the same vein as the films of Edgar Wright, Johnson has a huge watching list chock full of influences that have inspired him.
Here, I will take you through all the influences for his work:
Firstly, the Agatha Christie Adaptations (Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, The Mirror Crack’d and Evil Under the Sun)
Knives Out owes a huge debt to Agatha Christie. The incredibly iconic author has become famous mainly for writing mystery and whodunit novels, with labyrinthine plotting, complex characterisations and smart resolutions. Many of her novels have been adapted for the screen, and in particular, four adaptations have been called influences of Johnson.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974) is directed by legendary Hollywood director, Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afterman, Network), and remains probably the most famous Christie adaptation, possibly tied with it’s 2017 remake. Often called Christie’s most famous novel, the story is very iconic, and everyone will have heard of it, even if you’re not a fan of the genre. Everyone knows the story – a murder occurs on the iconic train of the title, every-one onboard is a suspect, and Hercule Poirot (played this time by Albert Finney) must investigate who has done it. Poirot is definitely an influence on Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, especially in his over-the-top and caricatured portrayal, and his funny accent. Otherwise, much like Knives Out, the film has a huge ensemble cast, who make up the large group of suspects, and this includes Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman (in an Oscar-winning role), Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Hopkins and Vanessa Redgrave. As we get to the ending (which I won’t spoil), the story tries to incorporate all of the characters in the ensemble into a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. Lumet, an always brilliant director, also does a fantastic job at the helm, as he is able to turn the novel into a properly cinematic movie, that does not feel made for television, as often these murder mysteries end up feeling like.
Death on the Nile (1978) is Christie’s follow up to Orient Express, however, in this adaptation, it done almost as a reboot, with a new director (John Guillermin) and a new actor portraying Poirot (Peter Ustinov). The plot is pretty much a repeat of Orient Express (a murder takes place, there are loads of suspects, and Poirot investigates), but this time, set on a boat going around the Nile. This is a interesting change of pace, and makes the drama all a bit more tense (because guess what, in a ship in the middle of the ocean, there is no escape), and also, a lot prettier to look at (the scenery and costumes are very beautiful). Much like Orient Express, the film has a large ensemble cast, includes Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, David Niven and Maggie Smith, very much like Knives Out. This is, for me, one of the best and most successful adaptations of Christie’s work, mainly only more brilliant by Christie’s brilliant plotting. The ending reveal of who exactly did it could be disappointing to some, as it is probably the most obvious culprit, but this is done more of “howdunnit”, giving us surprises with the exact nature of what happened, and who was involved (and this was definitely an influence on Knives Out). This adaptation is a huge example of Christie’s smarts up there on the big screen.
The Mirror Crack’d (1980) is adaptation of one of Christie’s novel, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, and probably the most famous movie adaptation of Christie’s Miss Marple character, portrayed by Angela Lansbury. In this movie, Marple is an elderly spinster in a small village, who proves herself to be a bit of an amateur detective. Meanwhile, a costume drama film is being filmed in the village, starring two rival actresses, Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak). At a party, a gushing, devoted fan, Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett) is found dead from poisoning after drinking a drink meant for Rudd, leading to Marple to investigate. The plot is a little less ambitious and labyrinthe than the previous two adaptations, but it’s still a smart and though-out film with some surprises. It also feels like possibly Marple was a influence on Ana de Armas’s character, Marta from Knives Out. Both are outcasts from the richer, more upper class characters, and have to play amateur detective to figure out the case. Also, the ensemble cast, possibly not as large as some adaptations, is still packed and star-studded, including Lansbury, Taylor, Novak, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis and Geraldine Chaplin. It’s not as well directed as the previous two adaptations, and does feel slightly televisual, but this film is still worth a look.
Evil Under the Sun (1982) is seen as the sequel to Death on a Nile, with Ustinov returning to his role for a new adventure. And, you got it, the plot is very similar to Orient Express and Nile (a murder takes place, there are loads of suspects, and Poirot investigates), but this time, set in a posh island resort frequented by the rich and famous. The cinematography is very lush and gorgeous, as is the costume and production design. The cast are as good as ever, however, is a little less star-studded – it does include Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg and James Mason, but also includes less famous cast members, including Colin Blakely, Jane Birkin, Nicholas Clay, Roddy McDowall and Sylvia Miles. This adaptation may feel a little old hat to some viewers, as it is very similar to Nile and Orient Express, but saying that, it is still a smart, intricately plotted and fun mystery. Much in the same way of Nile, this whodunnit is formatted as more of “howdunnit”, in which we wonder how exactly it happened, and who was involved. This is a technique that Christie often uses, and although, it sometimes lacks a element of surprise, it makes the story feel tight and believable. This is a effect that Johnson has definitely taken on, as even though, Knives Out is filled with surprises and twists, it’s script is still tight with no filler or wasted screen-time.
Secondly, the mystery comedies and spoof movies (Murder by Death, The Private Eyes, Clue and Gosford Park)
Other than Knives Out’s intelligent and surprising writing and brilliant performances, the film is just plain entertaining, and also, very, very funny. Johnson has assured that Knives Out is not necessary a spoof film, but more of a pastiche of this tired genre. That being said, the film still a huge sense of humour to it, and because of this, Johnson was very inspired by these comedies/spoofs.
Murder by Death (1976) is a comedy mystery film, directed by Robert Moore and written by legendary Hollywood scriptwriter and playwright, Neil Simon. The plot is a broad comedy of mystery/whodunnit tropes, in which 5 famous literary detectives and their sidekicks (that are send-ups of various fictional sleuths, including Poirot, Marple, Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, and Sam Spade) are invited to a bizarre mansion to solve an even more bizarre mystery, very much in the style of Christie’s iconic novel, And Then There Were None. The film is the biggest spoof of all these influences, and feels very similar to various spoof movies of the 70s and 80s, including the works of Mel Brooks (like Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie and Spaceballs) and Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (like Airplane!, Top Secret! and The Naked Gun). The film is not quite as clever or quick-witted as some of these films (especially Young Frankenstein and Airplane), but it is still very funny and entertaining. It is brilliantly written by Simon (or Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and The Goodbye Girl fame), who gives us some very funny one-liners, and some very funny parodic characters. By how this film lovingly tributes whodunit films, it was definitely a influence on what Johnson does with Knives Out.
The Private Eyes (1980) is most possibly the most forgotten about film on this list. The film stars Tim Conway and Don Watts, recurring collaborators that previously starred together in 3 other films together. In this film, the pair play a couple of dim-witted and hopeless detectives, who travel to large English country mansion, to investigate the death of the rich couple who owes the house. All of the staff, including the butler, the maid, a gypsy, a hunchback and a samurai, are suspects. Soon enough, the situation becomes more deadly as the staff starts to be killed off one by one. The film is a lot sillier and more slapsticky than the previous comedies on this film, and is still fairly entertaining. This film is often called an influence on Knives Out for how, despite how the protagonists are very different (Blanc is definitely a lot smarter and more intelligent than Conway and Watts), we are still encouraged to laugh at them, and their over-the-top ridiculousness. It may not be a smart or intelligent as Knives Out, but saying that, it’s silly humour definitely influenced Knives Out’s subversive and funny playfulness.
Clue (1985) is another comedy spoof movie, which is directed and written by Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny), and is based off the classic board-game of Cluedo. The film, centres on six guests who are all invited to a strange mansion for dinner, and when their host is found murdered, they must work together (with the staff) to identify the murderer. Unlike Murder by Death, the film is not a straight-up spoof, but more of a black comedy, with it’s equal moments of thrills and laughs. The film also has an ensemble cast – this time, with comedic actors, including Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean and Lesley Ann Warren. The film, like Mean Girls and The Princess Bride, is a well-renowned cult classic, with a legions of fans, and has become one of the most quotable films of all time (from “flames on the side of my face” to “I am the singing telegram” to “2 plus 1 plus 2 plus 1”). The film is very iconic for how at cinemas, it offered 3 separate, different endings, which have been collected together for home release. The film is hilariously directed by Lynn, who creates the humour with almost watch-like choreography and is always one step ahead of the audience. It may not be a smart of intelligent as Knives Out, but this film definitely influenced it’s funny and quotable nature.
Gosford Park (2001) is a black comedy mystery drama, directed by legendary director Robert Altman (The Player, MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville), and written by Julian Fellowes, who went on to helm the classic British series, Downton Abbey. The film is an old-fashioned whodunnit, in which a bunch of Britons (plus an American film producer), and their servants, gather for a hunting party at the house of the title. Soon, a murder occurs at the party, and all of the characters are suspects. The film as always has an all-star cast, and has a bucketful of British actors, including Kelly MacDonald, Clive Owen, Kristen Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Stephen Fry, Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren, and many more. Gosford Park is notable in how it was made at least 15 years after most of the films on this list, and a lot like Knives Out, the film was touted as a revival of a once tired genre. The series is often touted as a prelude to Downton Abbey (which had started life as a spin-off of this film), in it’s soap opera plots, and witty writing. The film is very well written by Fellowes, who gives all the characters a story-line and personality of their own, and is brilliantly directed by Altman, who always manages an all-star cast very well. It’s also got great cinematography, costume design, production design and performances. The film may not be as flat-out funny or thrilling as Knives Out (the humour is a lot dryer, and the film has a much slower pace), but saying that, this is actually the closest thing you will get to Knives Out with how they were both a revival of this tired genre.
Lastly, the more serious twisty-turny thrillers (Sleuth, The Last of Sheila & Deathtrap)
Although, Knives Out is very funny, and is very complexly plotted, the real genius of the film is just how thrilling it is. Yes, all the Agatha Christie adaptations (especially Death on the Nile) are great and all, but a slight criticism is that they aren’t that thrilling, and you could make the argument that they are slightly televisual in how they are directed. What is so brilliant about Knives Out, that it remains a very cinematic experience – it is exciting, thrilling and funny, and popcorn entertainment at it’s best. Because of that, Johnson looked at mystery popcorn thrillers for influences on his film.
Sleuth (1972) is a British mystery thriller that remains one of Rian Johnson’s favourite films. The film is last film by legendary Hollywood director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Guys and Dolls), and stars Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. It is a twisty-turner mystery thriller, which centres on Milo Tindle (Caine) confronting his lover’s husband, Andrew Wyke (Olivier). Over the two hours run time, the two manipulate each other, and pull various cons on each other. The film is an incredibly confident and ballsy movie – essentially being a movie with just two actors in one location, and feels like it could be a feature-length episode of the BBC anthology show, Inside No. 9. The influence is especially seen in Knives Out for being set in a lavish, huge and posh mansion, as well for the various twists and turns, and plugging the rug from under the audience’s eyes. It is so much of an influence that a piece of automata from the film, Jolly Jack the Sailor is used in Knives Out.
The Last of Sheila (1973) is a really underrated gem from the 70s. The film is directed by underrated director, Herbert Ross (Funny Girl, Play it Again, Sam, The Secret of My Success, Steel Magnolias), and has a very odd writing team consisting of actor, Anthony Perkins (Psycho) and musical, song-writing legend, Stephen Sondheim. The film is influenced by various murder mystery parties that both Perkins and Sondheim used to host. The film is centred on a wealthy movie producer, Clinton Greene (James Coburn), who, a year after his wife, Sheila, had been killed in a hit-and-run, invites 6 of his friends to go on a cruise with him. Their is a secret motivation, however, as Clinton has figured out that one of these friends must have been the one who killed Sheila. As he plays a Cluedo-type of game with them, another one of the characters is found dead, and a new mystery begins. This is a whodunit, done seriously without many laughs, but still done very efficiently, with the props given to Ross and the writers. The cast are all very good, especially Coburn, Dyon Cannon, Richard Benjmain and James Mason. The film is very notable for how it basically has two mysteries going on at once, and both of them feel very interesting, developed and thought-out. The film also has an almost “false ending”, in which we think everything is resolved, only for them to have an even smarter resolution, which very much inspired Knives Out. An underrated gem, you should definitely check out this movie.
Deathtrap (1982) is another underrated gem, directed by the previously featured director on the list, Lumet, and written by Jay Presson Allen, based on the play by Ira Levin. The film is very similar to Sleuth, but this time we have Caine in the older man role, and Superman’s own Christopher Reeve in the younger man role. The film centres on failed playwright, Sidney Bruhl (Caine), who gets given a manuscript from one of his students, Clifford Anderson (Reeve). Annoyed that the script is much better than his, he invites Clifford for dinner with his wife, Myra (Dyon Cannon), which ends in tragedy for one of the three characters. The film, as always, is brilliantly directed by Lumet, who makes the film very tense and thrilling. Very much in the same way as Sleuth, the film is incredibly ballsy in how it centres mainly on two actors in one location for the whole run-time. The twisty-turny, subversive and thrilling plotting is also on display here, and you can definitely feel that influence on Knives Out. This is another one you should definitely check out, especially if you’re a fan of twisty-turny thrillers.
With all these influences, Johnson has created a film has intricate plotting, witty and subversive humour, and thrilling and tense direction. What’s so wonderful about Knives Out is that is a loving tribute to the murder mysteries/ whodunit genre, whilst reviving the genre with a new and original story. It is simultaneously a film that feels quintessentially Rian Johnson, while doing standing on it’s own as a stand-alone movie. It is such a great movie, that will hopefully grow in stature over the years. I can’t wait to see what Rian Johnson has in mind for the sequel, which is currently is development. Hopefully, it will be just as fantastic.
Well, that’s it. DisneyPlus’ very first original show, and flagship programme, The Mandalorian has ended it’s first season. The show that originated as a Star Wars spin-off, has received critical acclaim and a legion of fans, and has revived Star Wars back to it’s former glory after two lackluster efforts with Solo and The Rise of Skywalker. The show is the best thing Star Wars has done since The Last Jedi came out (2 years ago), and the two part finale is a brilliant example of just how good it is.
The two part finale consists of the 7th episode, “The Reckoning” and the 8th episode, “Redemption”. In The Reckoning, The Mandalorian (or “Mando”) (Pedro Pascal) receives a message from Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) that The Client (Werner Herzog) has become desperate to gain the Child (or Baby Yoda). The two of them, along with Mando’s old friends, Cara Dune (Gina Carano) and Kuiil (Nick Nolte), create a plan to kill The Client by using a plan consisting of using Baby Yoda as bait. However, the plan is complicated by a rival pursuer of Baby Yoda, Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). In Redemption, Mando, Cara Dune, Greef Karga, Baby Yoda, along with IG-11 (Taika Waititi), all attempt to run and hide to save Baby Yoda from Gideon and his legion of storm troopers.
Both of these episodes are very much connected, and feel like a two-parter. This is a fairly different rhythm from the rest of the series, as it has mainly been all stand-alone episodes. The first 3 episodes were all quite connected, but still felt like separate entities, while the next 3 episodes were very much independent adventures, all of which had a loose story arc of Baby Yoda and his origins. It seems like the show is taking the template of classic shows, like Buffy, The X-Files and 2000s reboot of Doctor Who in how they are doing separate episodes, with a loose story arc, which comes to it’s conclusion in its finale.
The Reckoning sees a return to many characters that have appeared throughout the season. This is a nice rhythm for the series, as it ultimately just contains two main characters in Mando and Baby Yoda, but a conveyor belt of recurring characters. In this episode, we see the return of Cara Dune, Greef Karga and Kuiil, all of which are interesting and engaging characters. In particular, Kuiil is a really fun character, who acts as a fun foil to our lead character. I do wish, however, that Karga was given a little better arc. It was interesting to see him be a good guy in this episode, but I just wish that he’s been given more a well thought-out character arc.
IG-11’s role in this episode was also very interesting. IG-11, voiced writer-director Taika Waititi (who also directs the next episode), was a droid who appeared in the show’s first episode, in which he was a killing droid and bounty hunter. In this episode, Kuiil has re-programmed him to become a nurse droid, who looks after Baby Yoda. This is a very interesting competent, and it was great to see a character who could of easily been written out be revived.
This episode also introduced to Moff Gideon, who looks set to be the show’s next big villain. The character is portrayed by Giancarlo Esposito, who is well known for his role as the villain, Gus Fring in the television shows, Breaking Bad (2008-2013), most recently appearing in the fifth season of Better Call Saul (2015-present), just last month. It’s no wonder Gus Fring is often called one of best villains of all time, as here, Esposito injects his character with a real menace and peril that other villains lack. It also refreshing to see Esposito performing loudly as Gus is often known for being a soft-spoken and quiet villain.
The end of this episode is also really effective. Without spoiling too much of what happens, the ending is quite a bleak affair that does not suggest a happy ending for the finale. This is very reminiscent of the ending to Empire Strikes Back, in how it has offers a bleak view of the future. It’s also very brave that they do this, and having watched the finale, they stick to it, and don’t reverse it. The ending shot is also really well-shot, and has some really nice cinematography. Ending brilliantly, this leads us to the next episode, Redemption.
Redemption is a really efficient finale, that ties up all the loose ends from the series. The episode starts off really great, in which we see focus on who stormtroopers, who have kidnapped Baby Yoda. The two of them are voiced by the actors, Jason Sudeikis and Adam Pally, two cameo appearances that never proves irritating or unnecessary. The scene is very funny, and entertaining, but still very squirm-inducing as both characters violently punch Baby Yoda.
The next scene is particularly great, as, after IG-11 rescues Baby Yoda, we see him ride as across the desert with him in tow. This is really entertaining scene that will excite any viewer, no matter how old or young. A real highlight is this episode is how it’s directed – the directer, Waititi directs the episode with a real excitement and passion, and feels like one of the liveliest episodes of the series to date. Waititi is a really mercurial filmmaker, and he can do a variety of different projects, from blockbuster films (including Thor: Ragnarok, Star Wars) to passion projects (Jojo Rabbit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows), and here, he shows us that he can really direct action very well.
The action comes to a head about half way through the episode, which is a big battle between the characters. During this scene, Mando gets hurt, and in retaliation, IG-11 attempts to help him but must remove his helmet. This is the first we have seen Mando without his helmet on for the whole series, and this is such a cathartic moment, as we have been waiting the whole series for him to do to that. It is a very ballsy move for them to withhold showing his face for 7 whole episodes, but doing this, really informs you a lot about his character and just how secretive he is.
The action slightly peaks here at this point of the episode, and this would be my only complaint with the episode – is that the episode struggles to be as quite as good as this towards the end of the episode. The episode slightly peaks halfway through, and struggles to get it back. That being said, there are still a lot of great moments that occur towards the end.
This includes when another recurring character throughout the series, The Armorer (Emily Swallow) returns, and in a brilliantly performed and directed moment, The Armorer takes on and kills about 7 stormtroopers. She has not appeared that much in the series, but the episode really shines whenever she appears, and I can’t wait to see where they take her character in season 2. Also, IG-11 continues to have some really great moments in this episode. He has a whole, closed arc in this episode, and it’s great to see a character get closure in this series.
As the episode (and series) wraps up, the film leaves us on some cliffhangers and closed endings. Mando and Baby Yoda get a fairly happy ending, and we can assume that some still living characters are going to return also. Also, Moff Gideon gets a really fun cliff-hanger, which is very exciting, and can only spell exciting things for the next season.
The episode, and by extension, the series, has some a good mixture between giving some closure, killing off some characters (and hopefully, keeping them dead), and some open-ended cliffhangers. I, personally, can’t wait to see where the series will go for the next season, which will hopefully come out in October. Hopefully, it will be just as good.
If you’re looking for something to watch on streaming services recently, then look no further than Sea Fever, a very interesting and engaging horror thriller from the writer/ director, Neasa Hardiman. The film is available from the majority of streaming service providers, including Amazon and Google Play, where you can rent it for £4.49.
The film follows a young and solitary marine-biology student, Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) joins a ragged fishing trawler for research, joining a crew 6 others. Whilst out at sea, an strange parasite-like life form grabs holds of the ship, and forces it to stay put. Soon enough, the parasite starts infecting the crew members, and killing them off one-by-one. To save them, Siobhan and the crew members must come up with a way to beat the monster.
Obviously, from the plot alone, you can tell that the plot is a thrilling and claustrophobic horror-thriller in the vein of classics like, 1982’s The Thing and 1979’s Alien, with a little bit of Jaws (1975) also thrown into the mix. Much like these three classics, the setting really adds to the claustrophobia – setting it on a ship in the middle of the ocean that soon gets stuck makes us feel as trapped and confined as the characters in the film does.
Also, much like these 2 classics, the characters are all very well-drawn and interesting. The lead character, Siobhan is particularly great, and the performance by Corfield is also very good. It is also very refreshing to see a woman lead the film, especially as it makes it different from films like The Thing and Jaws, which are very male-oriented. Also, Siobhan’s arc of going from an lonely, solitary woman, who gains friends and confidence amongst the rest of the crew, is very interesting, and felt reminiscent of Ripley’s arc in the 1986 classic, Aliens.
Also, the various supporting characters are also very engaging. The rest of the crew on the boat include the husband-and-wife piloting team, Freya (Connie Nielson) and Gerald (Dougray Scott); the rebellious Johnny (Jack Hickey); the bookish mechanic, Omid (Ardalan Esmaili) and the older “grandmother” figure, Ciara (Olwen Fouéré).
As you can tell from this, all of the supporting characters are really well-drawn and interesting. Yes, they do conform to certain stereotypes, but because of the film’s good writing and good performances, that matters a lot less. In particular, Omid is an riveting character, and the friendship he gains with Siobhan is a real highlight of the film.
When discussing the monster itself, it is a scary and thrilling villain. The monster is not seen through a lot of film, and this only makes it more effective. This is an effect that Steven Spielberg brilliant uses in Jaws (as well as Jurassic Park), and it works so well, as makes the audience imagine more of what the monster is like.
The monster in fact, is very timely, as it is very similar to the Coronavirius pandemic that is going on at the moment. In a especially relatable moment, Siobhan states that possibly all of them might have been infected because they all have open wounds, of which the parasite can infect through. This is particularly scary, as like The Thing, it means that any of the characters can be infected or in peril, without them even knowing it.
I do wish, however, that the film was a little more gruesome and gross. In contrast to The Thing, which is a really visceral and disgusting movie, the film slightly lacks that. However, there is one particularly gross scene, in which one of the infected characters’ eyeballs explode with a lot of bloods and guts as the parasite leaves his body.
I do think that, sometimes, the plot is a little confusing, and sometimes it is not exactly clear what the monster is, what is it’s motivation, and how exactly the parasite is passed around. That being said, when the monster is seen in full, it is still very scary and effectively frightening.
In conclusion, Sea Fever is a film that is really worth a watch. It is scary, thrilling, entertaining, and filled with well-drawn characters and great performances. It’s not perfect, but you should definitely check it out, if you are looking for a good scare.
One of the recent films (well, I say, recent – the past month) to be released on streaming services includes Blow the Man Down. This latest black comedy crime thriller film from writer-director, Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, had it’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April last year. It was then bought my Amazon Studios following this, and was released exclusively on Amazon Prime Video last month.
The plot follows two estranged sisters, Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla Connolly (Sophie Lowe), who are struggling with money issues after the death of their mother, and are dealing with her mother’s failing funeral business. They are bonded together after Mary Beth kills a man that she has a dangerous run-in with. It is soon revealed that this man works for a brothel, and this leads the two young girls to face the dangers of the crime world, including having run-ins with the manipulative brothel boss, Enid (Margo Martindale).
From that alone, you can tell that this film has a classic black comedy type of plot, very much in the vein of the Coen brothers or Martin McDonagh. The film fells very inspired by the Coen’s 1996 classic, Fargo, especially in how the film depicts a murder, and the investigation of this by various police officers. In fact, this film feels like a by-the-book retelling of the second season of the television adaptation of Fargo.
The film doesn’t live up to these influences, but saying that, it is still an entertaining romp nonetheless. The real strength of the film is the power of the two young performers, as Saylor and Lowe are both really great in their roles. A lot of the film relies not just on them, but their believable chemistry as sisters, and they pull it off very well. For me, this is really the high part of the film, and works really well.
The film also has a scene-stealing and entertaining supporting role for Margo Martindale. Martindale has been an “Esteemed Character Actress” (sorry, that’s a Bojack Horseman joke), and has appeared in a variety of films and TV shows in supporting roles, including her Emmy Award-winning role in The Americans. Here, she gets that a full-on, scenery chewing type of supporting role, and it is so fun to she her having fun.
Also, another pleasure of the film is how the narrative has a lot of fun twists and turns in it. The twists aren’t exactly the biggest of surprises, and maybe the film could of used more of a subversive, fun edge to it. That being said, however, these twists and turns, in a very black comedy-type way, are still very entertaining and fun.
The film also has a great visual style and panache to it, and some terrific direction by Cole and Krudy. The film expertly uses editing, especially how it uses fades, and this creates an especially haunting, eerie atmosphere. Also, the soundtrack is one of the film’s real highlights – it has a booming, impactful score that is very attention grabbing, and startling.
There is some really good stuff in this film, but I just wished that it was a little more polished. As much as the relationship between the sisters is interesting, the stuff about the seedy crime underbelly is a lot less interesting. It feels like this is a little tacked-on – they don’t get into it until about half an hour into the run-time, and feels almost like it was added last minute to the plot to flesh it out somewhat.
Also, the police officer part of the story, in which we see young police officer, Justin Brennan (played by Will Brittain) investigate Mary Beth and Priscilla’s murder, and fall for Priscilla, feels very under-baked. All of these underdeveloped plot elements fell like they might of worked better in a TV show or mini-series format, as they would have given more time for these elements to breathe.
That being said, Blow the Man Down is a very interesting film that, although, it is not as perfect or polished as it could be, is still very much worth a watch due to it’s performances (especially by Martindale, Saylor and Lowe), visual style and score. It is available on Amazon Prime, and if you have nothing to do (which I’m sure many people do), you should definitely check this out.
Well, that’s it. Better Call Saul has ended it’s perfect fifth season on Monday (or Tuesday here in the UK) with it’s season finale, “Something Unforgivable”. The episode follows Lalo (Tony Dalton) and Nacho (Michael Mando) going to his second home in Chihuahua, and introduces him to Don Eladio (Steven Bauer) – a former character from Breaking Bad. Soon, Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) plans for Lalo to be killed, and sends a bunch of assassins to his house.
Meanwhile, after the very tense visit from Lalo, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) relax at a motel. Kim goes to collect her pro bono cases, and has a tense encounter with Howard (Patrick Fabian). Back at the motel, Jimmy and Kim have fun, and begin to toy with the idea to resolve the Sandpiper case by sabotaging Howard. Jimmy thinks of it as a joke, but Kim might possibly be serious.
This episode isn’t as exciting and eventful as the previous two episodes. It might not be brilliant as the previous two episodes, “Bagman” and “Bad Choice Road”, but that would be very difficult as the two episodes were all-time classics, and possibly the best two episodes of series, ever. That being said, it is still a really fine and terrific finale to what is probably the best season of the show as of yet.
The episode is particularly great for the character development of Lalo. Lalo has been an absolutely fantastic addition to the series, and that’s especially impressive for a character that was introduced 4 seasons into a popular TV show. In this episode, we see his household, as well as his relationships with various people here, including his friends and family.
What is also wonderful about Lalo’s role in this episode, is that we start to feel sympathy for him, and align ourselves with him slightly. This has always been a great feature of both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, in which the show makes us feel sympathy for characters who we normally wouldn’t care about. Even the villains of both shows, like Lalo and Breaking Bad’s Gus, are written with some complexity and depth. And here, we understand, that Lalo, although sleazy and amoral, still has plenty people who he loves and cares about . And, as we get to the end of the episode (which of course, I won’t spoil), we really get to feel sorry for him for some of the horrible things that happen to him.
This episode is also significant in that it does not give that much closure. Going into this finale, a lot of people were theorising that either Kim, Lalo or Nacho were going to die, all because none of the characters were not in Breaking Bad. However, none of these characters do die, and that is something I like about this finale. They have saved Lalo as the villain for the final season of the show, which is something I think is a safe choice, as with only 10 episodes left, they don’t want to waste time introducing a new villain. I mean, the antagonists in the final season of Breaking Bad (Lydia, Uncle Jack and Todd) were always unfavourably compared to Gus, the season 4 villain.
Also, as always the case with Better Call Saul, the episode has some brilliant sequences, which are delivered with a real punch through the terrific direction and cinematography. The scene in which Nacho attempts to escape Lalo’s compound is particularly tense, and scary. There is a brilliant panning shot where Lalo is running down in the crawl space of the house that is brilliant shot and edited. Better Call Saul continues to raise the bar for cinematography in television, and that’s wonderful to see, as it always used to be seen as a feature of cinematic films.
Otherwise, this episode is great for developing Kim’s character. As we see her and Jimmy consider toying the idea of framing Howard, it becomes clear that Kim is “breaking bad”, as she becomes more involved in the crime world. There is a really great moment that highlights this change, where Jimmy asks Kim if she is serious about framing Howard, and she does finger guns back to Jimmy. The moment feels very Saul Goodman, and very much mirrors the move that Jimmy did to Kim in the season 4 finale (“Winner”).
It is becoming more and more apparent that this is the reason why she does not appear in Breaking Bad, although, the reason itself is still unknown. Possibly she ends up incarcerated. However, as many fans have stated, this behaviour is slightly out-of-character for her, and some theorise that she is playing a long con game against Jimmy. It would be a harsher blow for him than her just being dead or prison, and would explain his cynical personality in Breaking Bad.
In addition, this episode is great because of how Howard gets a lot more to do. By the end of the episode, it seems like they have set up a big role for him in the next season. This is a wonderful thing, because I have always stated that Howard is a great addition to the show, and he should not just disappear after not being appearing that heavily in the past 2 seasons, ever since Chuck’s death.
This episode is really a showcase for Kim and Lalo, and cast a light on Rhea Seehorn and Tony Dalton’s acting chops, respectively. Although, some major characters (like Jimmy, Nacho and Mike) have interesting moments in this episode (like Jimmy’s PTSD, Nacho escaping Lalo’s house, and Mike telling Jimmy that Lalo will be killed), this is really Kim and Lalo’s episode. It’s sets up a final season, which will probably feature them prominently, which is only a good thing.
Overall, this episode sets up a fantastic final season. There are many brilliant story-lines that have been set up, and I can’t wait to see what the writers do, where Jimmy’s arc will most likely be completed. Also, we’ll finally figure out what will happen to Kim, Nacho and Lalo, and also, Saul/Jimmy in the present, under the alias of Gene Takavic. Nonetheless, this season was absolutely fantastic – it was the best season yet and will definitely be up there as one of my favourite TV shows of 2020.
Tigertail is one of the many films that are now on offer on streaming services, if you are really missing new releases due to all the cinemas being closed. This time, for the first time, I am reviewing a film available on Netflix, which will be useful for you all because I’m sure you all have Netflix. Tigertail is the newest Netflix Original for the platform, which has had a mixed output over the past year – with great hits like The Platform, Miss Americana and the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before sequel, but also misses like Horse Girl and Love Wedding Repeat.
Tigertail is set in two different time zones and focuses on a Taiwanese man called Pin-jui, played by Hong Chi-Lee as a young man, and Tzi Mu as a middle-aged man. In the past, Pin-jui is a enthusiastic factory worker, who leaves behind his homeland and his forbidden love, Yuan (Joan Chen in the past; Yo-Hsing Fang in the present) to move to America with his arranged wife, Zhenzhen (Kunjue Li; Fiona Fu), and make a live for himself. In the present, Pin-jui is a melancholic middle-aged man, who has a estranged relationship with his daughter, Angela (Christine Ko), and begins to feel regretful and mournful for his life choices.
Tigertail is, overall, one of the better Netflix Originals to come out recently. It is not as entertaining or exciting as some recent Netflix Originals, especially The Platform, but that’s not an insult about the film at all. The film is instead, quite a sweet and soulful film that will really relax you. It would be a perfect film to watch on an relaxing Sunday afternoon, especially in light of everything that’s going on in the world right now.
One of the real strengths of the film is the film’s glorious visual style. The film is directed by Alan Yang, who has previously been known for his work on comedy television shows, including Parks and Recreation, The Good Place and most famously, Master of None, the latter of which he won an Emmy for. The film is beautifully shot, with really wonderful gorgeous cinematography and vibrant colours.
The film also has a really nice soundtrack, which much like the film, is sweet and soulful that leaves a lingering feeling. Also, the editing and montages in the film are also wonderful. In particular, there is a scene where Pin-jui, in the past, is constantly closes and reopening the shop where he works at, and this scene is really gloriously edited. Everything in how this film is made, from the direction to the cinematography to the editing is really wonderful, especially because this is Yang’s first feature film.
The performances are also wonderful. None of the performances are particularly big, dramatic, or emotional, but instead, they are quite restrained and understated, which really fits in with this kind of film. Mai heads up the cast very well, especially in how small and detailed his performance is. He bridges the gap between the present and past sections very well. Also, the younger performers, Chi-Lee, Li, Fang and Ko are all equally as impressive.
The themes in this film are fairly familiar and we’ve seen them in numerous films before, but that’s not to say they aren’t effective. In the film’s present-day sequences, it deals with themes of getting older, dealing with regrets and mistakes you’ve made, and repairing relationships with estranged family members; while, in it’s past sequences, it addressed themes of moving away from your homeland, losing your one true love, and homesickness. In particular, the arc of Pin-Jui’s wife, Zhenzhen is particularly interesting, especially for a character that could of been one-dimensional. During the film, we see her become homesick and bored at her new life, and through really lovely scenes, we see her form a friendship the only other person nearby who speaks Taiwanese, her neighbour Peijing (Cindera Che).
Although, the film is really great, sweet and soulful, the film could still be a bit more emotional. The film feels very reminiscent to recent films, like Moonlight (2016) and The Farewell (2019), in how quiet and passionate the film is. However, unlike these films, the film fails to hit you with it’s really sentimental and emotional undercurrents. Possibly, with the film’s length only at 90 minutes, it could of benefited from a longer run-time.
Overall, however, this film is definitely worth your time. If you are looking for a lovely and sweet film that is not too heavy or depressing, then you should definitely watch this film. And make sure not to get it confused with Tiger King, which is a very different watch. I really can’t wait to see what Yang does next.
The Mandalorian has continued it’s impressive run with it’s fifth and sixth episodes – “The Gunslinger” and “The Prisoner”. The Gunslinger is centred around The Mandalorian (or “Mando”) (Pedro Pascal) and Baby Yoda (or “The Child”) arriving on Tatooine. Mando joins aspiring bounty hunter, Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale), who is on the hunt for mercenary and assassin, Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen). However, while on Mando and Toro’s quest, it is revealed that Toro is not at all what he seems.
In The Prisoner, Mando contracts his former partner, Ran for work. Ran asks Mando to accompany a five-man job, that they must use his ship for. The job in question is to rescue a prisoner of the New Republic. Soon enough, the members of the crew begin to double-cross Mando, especially when they discover he has Baby Yoda, and then, Mando must take his revenge.
Although, The Mandalorian is really great, and these two episodes are solid, it does feel like these episodes are slightly filler, particularly The Gunslinger. The Gunslinger is the shortest episode of the series so far, at only 30 minutes, and feels particularly slight and unadventurous.
The episode’s main strength is it’s nostalgic call-backs to the original namesake film, or A New Hope as it will be known to younger fans. These include, among many others, how it takes place on Tatooine, Luke’s home planet; features the same bar, Mos Eisley Catatina, where Han shot Gredo and features the secondary villians, the Tusken Raiders (or Sand People), who meet Mando and Toro on their quest. For a series that, up until this point, has felt very new and original, it was nice to see it addressing it’s past in these cute hall-backs.
Also, much like pretty much all of the previous episodes, this episode also features many interesting secondary characters and guest stars, including Amy Sedaris, Wen and Cannavale. Sedaris is a long-time character actress known for her voice performances, Wen is an actress known for her role in Agents of SHIELD and voice role in Mulan (1998) and Cannavale is a young up-and-coming actor, who is the son of character actor, Bobby Cannavale. All 3 of them are interesting and fun characters, and if they ever show up again (and in Sedaris’s case, I’m sure she will), it would be a very welcome return.
Despite this, however, the whole episode feels a little nothing-y. It felt like the episode was possibly an excuse for it’s cliff-hanger ending, in which we see a rival bounty hunter has arrived, however, we do not see his face. Although this cliff-hanger shows definite promise, the rest of the episode feels like it lacks any real stakes or suspense. As is usually the case, Baby Yoda ends up in peril, and this is starting to become a little tiresome now. That being said, the episode overall is still a fun one that will pass the time finely, even if it pales in comparison to the other episodes.
The sixth episode, The Prisoner is very similar, in how it feels slightly filler, but it feels more adventurous and creative. Firstly, like the previous episode, the guest stars and secondary characters are really interesting. The crew that accompanies Mando includes Ran (Mark Boone Jr.); ex-imperial sharpshooter, Mayfield (Bill Burr); a strongman, Burg (Clancy Brown); knife-wielder, Xi’an (Natalia Tena) and the droid pilot, Zero (voiced by Richard Ayoade).
Although, none of these characters are particularly likeable, they are all fun characters, who are quite interesting. Also, as is always the case with any Star Wars universe project, the effects and make-up are terrific, and the design of all of these secondary characters are great. It’s also really nice to hear Ayoade (of The IT Crowd fame), and I love how the majority of droids in the Star Wars universe are being voiced from funny comedians, from Taika Waititi to Rogue One’s Alan Tudyk.
This episode is very similar to the show’s third episode, “The Sin” in how the action is glorious and really wonderful. The action takes place as Mando is fighting against the crew. Much like The Sin, the action never drags or feels dull, as each person that he fights against has a new, original and creatively choreographed fight sequence. One of the episode’s highlights, is when we see Mando approaching something from behind, and the light flickers until Mando conquers him, which is one of the most vibrant and colourful moments of great visual style for the series.
Pedro Pascal remains as impressive as ever in these two episodes. In particular, his performance in the The Prisoner is great, as he has to show a lot of emotions, with just subtle body movements and vocal performance. Also, his relationship with Baby Yoda is very cute. I do wish that Baby Yoda was getting a little more to do in this series, however, as he has been reduced to just a damsel in distress for both of these episodes. The series keeps teasing that Baby Yoda has some big powers up his sleeve, and I’m hoping that we will see these powers come into play for the two-part finale.
This episode, as a whole, does feels like a filler episode – something to get us by until the big two-part finale. That being said, the episode is a lot more narratively ambitious and creative that it’s previous part. The episode has more thoroughly developed characters, and has everything you want from a Mandalorian episode – it has action, laughs, adventure, thrills and tension to spare, even if it is a little insubstantial.
In conclusion, these two episodes of The Mandalorian are not among the best, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t fun episodes that are worthy of your time. The Mandalorian is by far one of the best TV programmes of 2020 so far (along with Better Call Saul and Inside No. 9), and I can’t wait for the hopefully epic two-part season finale.
My Horror Tuesdays have gone by the wayside recently, as I have been reviewing a lot of TV Shows (like Better Call Saul & The Mandalorian) and films on streaming services (like Swallow, Bacarau and Vivarium). This film, however, being broadcast on Shudder, a streaming service mainly for horror movies, feels like it can be both a streaming option, and a horror film for you to watch.
The film is directed and written by Issa Lopez, and is set in Mexico that has been devastated by the Mexican drug war. It centres on a young girl, Estrella (Paola Lara), whose mother has mysterious gone missing. Looking for her, she ends up joining a gang of four children, headed by El Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez). Together, the five of them try to survive against the horrific violence of the cartel, and begin to witness various ghosts created by the horror of the war.
A horror film is probably not the best description for this film, as it is more of a dark fantasy tale that has elements of horror in it. The film feels very Guillermo del Toro inspired in it’s concept, and the best films to compare it to are del Toro’s films, 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth and 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone – both extraordinary films in their own right.
The film really holds up being places next to those films, as it is a really terrific film. Much like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, the film centres on a view of a horrific war from the view of a young child. And, much like it’s influences, it’s child stars are absolutely terrific. The central two stars, Lara and Lopez, are both fantastic, and both really evoke sympathy and emotion for their characters. Lopez probably has the harder job here, as he has to convey the sweetness and niceness that is underneath the tough exterior, and he does a really great job at it.
Other characters include the other 3 members of the gang, consisting of Pop, Tucsi, and Morro, who are played by child actors, Rodrigo Cortes, Hanssel Casillas and Nery Arredondo, respectively. These three are really interesting to the narrative, as they provide a more grounded, sympathetic perspective to the hard life on the streets. All five kid performers give strong and emotional performances, and this is especially important for this type of film.
The film, is very much a fantastical mixture of various genres. The film firstly is a horrific imagining of a war time environment, and that is brilliantly captured here. One of the reasons why is the terrific camerawork. The film uses a lot of shaky-cam, which really evokes a documentary-type feel, and this only makes the environment feel more real and vivid. People who are not fans of shaky-cam, needn’t worry, however, because the technique never feels overused or annoying. In fact, it is used just the right amount.
What really makes the film, however, is how Lopez is able to mix this with the more fantastical elements. These moments are never overplayed, and in fact, they are never particularly explained. Much like del Toro’s films, we are unaware if these are real or in the imaginary of our young leading characters. Along with the various ghosts that Estrella encounters, she sees various things come to life (like a teddy bear and phone case), and witness an odd line of blood that follows her. These images are very haunting and strange, but are also beautiful, and they will be images that stay with you long after you finish watching it.
The fantasy elements are really important to the narrative, as well. They make Estrella’s quest for discovering her mother all the more heartbreaking, as we begin to think that she, maybe, is among the ghosts. The contrast between both of the characters’ central struggles – El Shine wanting to find a home, and Estrella wanting to find her mother are really wonderful and interesting characters arcs, and ones that give the movie some depth.
This is a really great outing for Lopez. The film may not be as scary as some of the films I’ve covered on here, and if you go in expecting a film full of scares, you will be disappointed. However, if you are a fan of sweet and soulful dark fantasy dramas, in the vein of del Toro’s films, you will definitely be a fan of this one.